James “Buster” Brown (1913-2002), not to be confused with neither the soul singer nor the comic strip character, was born on May 17. Brown was a tap dancer, and quite active up until the time of his death, still making personal appearances during his last decades. Inspired by wunderkind Pops Whitman (for more on whom see here), Buster started dancing when he was 16 (Pops was actually much younger than he was). He started playing the TOBA and other black vaudeville circuits in the early 1930s. He worked his way up to night clubs and floor shows of the big bands of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway. By the 50s, work grew scarce and he had to take day jobs to make ends meet, but the Broadway show Bubblin’ Brown Sugar (1976) brought him out of retirement. In the 80s he appeared in several films, including The Cotton Club (1984), Cookie’s Scrapbook (1987), and Dance in America: Tap (1989). His last high profile professional gig was the Broadway show Black and Blue (1989-1991).
To find out more about performers like Buster Brown 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.