Today is the birthday of the great dancer Charles “Cholly” Atkins (1913-2003). Buffalo native Atkins started out playing floor shows and revues with William “Red” Porter as the “Rhythm Pals.” By 1935, he was playing the Apollo Theatre, Hollywood and nightclubs. In the late 30s he toured with Bill Robinson in The Hot Mikado. World War 2 slowed his career, but he got to perform with army bands and take the occasional club date on weekends. After the war he teamed with Honi Coles and toured with the big bands of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and others. They peaked as a team with a three year run in Gentleman Prefer Blondes starting in 1949. After this, apart from a few television dates, work grew scarce and Atkins worked as a choreographer. He worked with all the great Motown artists during the 1960s and 70s, staged revues in Las Vegas, and climaxed his career as one of the choreographers on the Broadway show Black and Blue (with Savion Glover) in 1989.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.