“The greatest dance number ever filmed.” – Fred Astaire
Who are the Nicholas Brothers?
Fred Astaire once called this performance “the greatest dance number ever filmed.”
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I confess I never heard of the Nicholas Brothers until last week when I came across a reference to them.
If you Google Nicholas Brothers you’ll find that there is a lot of material about them as performers, how they were treated as second class citizens during a time when many public facilities were still segregated, and as people living out their lives individually and as a dance team.
Stormy Weather – The Movie
Stormy Weather is a 1943 American musical film produced and released by 20th Century Fox. The movie is considered one of the best Hollywood musicals with an African-American cast, the other being MGM‘s Cabin in the Sky. The film is considered a primary showcase of some of the top African-American performers of the time, during an era when African-American actors and singers rarely appeared in lead roles in mainstream Hollywood productions, especially those of the musical genre.
Stormy Weather takes its title from the 1933 song of the same title, which is performed near the end of the film. It is based upon the life and times of its star, dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Robinson plays “Bill Williamson,” a talented born dancer who returns home in 1918 after fighting in World War I and tries to pursue a career as a performer. Along the way, he approaches a beautiful singer named Selina Rogers, played by Lena Horne in one of her few non-MGM film appearances (and one of only two films from the 1930s-40s in which Horne played a substantial role). The character of Selina was invented for the film; Robinson did not have such a romance in real life. Dooley Wilson co-stars as Bill’s perpetually broke friend.
Other notable performers in the movie were Cab Calloway and Fats Waller (both appearing as themselves), the Nicholas Brothers dancing duo, comedian Miller, singer Ada Brown, and Katherine Dunham with her dance troupe. Despite a running time of only 77 minutes, the film features some 20 musical numbers. This was Robinson’s final film (he died in 1949); Waller died only a few months after its release.
The film’s musical highlights include Waller performing his composition “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” Cab Calloway leading his band in his composition “Jumpin’ Jive,” and a lengthy sequence built around the title song, featuring the vocals of Lena Horne and the dancing of Katherine Dunham. Horne also performs in several dance numbers with Robinson.
The Nicholas Brothers – Fayard and Harold
Here is some more detail about the Nicholas Brothers lives from Wikipedia.
There is also a 42 minute documentary We Sing We Dance chronicling their lives . I viewed the documentary and had mixed feelings as I saw their triumphs, the racial prejudice they and all African American people endured in that era, and their personal shortcomings.
I guess I only wanted to see them at their finest, but who among us is always at their finest all the time?
So, what do you think about the Nicholas Brothers, as dancers, and as people trying to live their lives amidst a confusing mixture of stardom, prejudice, romance, failed marriages and other regrets.
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