Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins

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Columbia University Press, Aug 7, 2012 - Music - 280 pages
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Cholly Atkins's career has spanned an extraordinary era of American dance. He began performing during Prohibition and continued his apprenticeship in vaudeville, in nightclubs, and in the army during World War II. With his partner, Honi Coles, Cholly toured the country, performing with such jazz masters as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and Count Basie. As tap reached a nadir in the fifties, Cholly created the new specialization of "vocal choreography," teaching rhythm-and-blues singers how to perform their music by adding rhythmical dance steps drawn from twentieth-century American dance, from the Charleston to rhythm tap. For the burgeoning Motown record label, Cholly taught such artists as the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Marvin Gaye to command the stage in ways that would enhance their performances and "sell" their songs.

Class Act tells of Cholly's boyhood and coming of age, his entry into the dance world of New York City, his performing triumphs and personal tragedies, and the career transformations that won him gold records and a Tony for choreographing Black and Blue on Broadway. Chronicling the rise, near demise, and rediscovery of tap dancing, the book is both an engaging biography and a rich cultural history.

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Class act: the jazz life of choreographer Cholly Atkins

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This is more than a factual biography of a great artist; it is a personal encounter with an exceptional man whose winning personality shines through on every page. The story of Cholly Atkins is ... Read full review


1 Going North
2 The Rhythm Pals
3 Cholly And Dotty
4 Struttin For Uncle Sam
5 Coles And Atkins
6 The End Of Our Road
7 Rhythm Tap And More
8 In Walked Maye
10 Back To Freelancing
11 The Way I Do The Things I Do
12 Black And Blue
Selected Bibliography

9 Hitsville USA

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About the author (2012)

Cholly Atkins has been a jazz dance artist, choreographer, and director of stage acts for decades. He has been honored by the Smithsonian Institution, the National Endowment for the Arts, and many dance organizations.

Jacqui Malone, who began interviewing Cholly Atkins in 1988, was awarded a Ford Foundation Grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship to write this book. Author of Steppin'on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance, she is a professor of drama, theater, and dance at Queens College.

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