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Robinson, Bill "Bojangles" (1878–1949)

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ROBINSON, BILLBOJANGLES (1878–1949). Dancer, actor. He was seemingly born to dance in Richmond, Virginia. After the death of his parents while he was still a baby, his grandmother raised Robinson, and she was not pleased when he began dancing on street corners to make money. Regardless, he became a “hoofer” or song and dance man by age six, and worked the local beer taverns. By age eight, he was performing with Mayme Remington’s vaudeville troupe based in Washington, D. C., and by the time he was 12, Robinson was performing with a traveling company in The South, Before the War . He later formed a vaudeville team with George Cooper, and his early career was exclusively playing the black theater circuit. Robinson did not dance for white audiences until he was 50. When Chicago agent Marty Forkins became his lifelong manager in 1908, Robinson began to nurture his solo act, and became one of the toasts of Broadway. As the vaudeville era waned, white impresario Lew Leslie produced his highly successful Blackbirds of 1928 , a black, musical review specifically for white audiences that featured Robinson and other black stars. Robinson soon became very popular and received the nickname “Bojangles.” He was in a total of 17 motion pictures, including Hello, Bill , 1929; Dixiana , 1930; and King for a Day , 1934. After the financial failure of Harlem is Heaven , 1932, Robinson shied away from all-black independent productions and hit mainstream success as the antebellum butler dancing with Shirley Temple in such films as The Littlest Colonel , 1935; The Littlest Rebel , 1935; and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm , 1937. He returned to all-black cast films with One Mile from Heaven , 1937, and Stormy Weather , 1943, both opposite the lovely Lena Horne. He was married twice. The first just after World War I to Fannie S. Clay in Chicago, ended in divorce, in 1943. He married Elaine Plaines in Columbus, Ohio, in 1944. He was well-known in gambling circles and, other than giving freely to charity, he spent little time managing his estimated $3,500 per week earnings. Bojangles, 2001, a film depicting Robinson’s life and times was made with master tap dancer Gregory Hines in the title role.

Filmography: Hello, Bill , 1929; Dixiana , 1930; Harlem Is Heaven , 1932; King for a Day , 1934; The Littlest Rebel , 1935; The Little Colonel , 1935; One Mile from Heaven , 1937; Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm , 1938; Just Around the Corner , 1938; Stormy Weather , 1943.

Robinson, Hilyard(1899–1986) - Architect, Chronology [next] [back] Robin, Gordon de Quetteville

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