Nicholas Brothers

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The Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather (1943)

The Nicholas Brothers were an entertainment act composed of brothers, Fayard (1914–2006) and Harold (1921–2000), who excelled in a variety of dance techniques, primarily between the 1930s and 1950s. Best known for their unique interpretation of a highly acrobatic technique known as "flash dancing", they were also considered by many to be the greatest tap dancers of their day, if not all time. Their virtuoso performance in the musical number "Jumpin' Jive" (with Cab Calloway and his orchestra) featured in the 1943 movie Stormy Weather has been praised as one of the greatest dance routines ever captured on film.

Growing up surrounded by vaudeville acts as children, they became stars of the jazz circuit during the Harlem Renaissance and performed on stage, film, and television well into the 1990s. Diminutive in size, they were appreciated for their artistry, innovation, and soaring leaps.

Early lives[edit]

Fayard Antonio Nicholas was born October 20, 1914, in Mobile, Alabama,[1] and Harold Lloyd Nicholas was born March 17, 1921, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina,[1] to Viola Harden (maiden; 1893–1971), a pianist, and Ulysses Dominick Nicholas (1892–1935), a drummer.

The Nicholas Brothers grew up in Philadelphia, the sons of college-educated musicians who played in their own band at the Standard Theater. At the age of three, Fayard would always sit in the front row while his parents worked, and by the time he was ten, he had seen most of the great African-American vaudeville acts—particularly the dancers, including such notables of the time as Alice Whitman, Willie Bryant, and Bill Robinson.[2] The brothers were fascinated by the combination of tap dancing and acrobatics. Fayard often imitated their acrobatics and clowning for the kids in his neighborhood.[2]

Neither Fayard nor Harold had any formal dance training.[3] Fayard taught himself how to dance, sing, and perform by watching and imitating the professional entertainers on stage. He then taught his younger siblings, first performing with his sister Dorothy as the Nicholas Kids, later joined by Harold. Harold idolized his older brother and learned by copying his moves and distinct style. Dorothy later opted out of the act, and the Nicholas Kids became known as the Nicholas Brothers.[4]


As word spread of their talents, the Nicholas Brothers became known around Philadelphia. They were first hired for a radio program, The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour, and then by other local theatres such as the Standard and the Pearl. When they were performing at the Pearl, the manager of The Lafayette, a New York vaudeville showcase, saw them and immediately wanted them to perform for his theater.[2]

The brothers moved to Philadelphia in 1926 and gave their first performance at the Standard a few years later.[5] In 1932, they became the featured act at Harlem's Cotton Club when Harold was 11 and Fayard was 18. They astonished their mainly white audiences dancing to the jazz tempos of "Bugle Call Rag"; they were the only entertainers in the African-American cast allowed to mingle with white patrons.[3] They performed at the Cotton Club for two years, working with the orchestras of Lucky Millinder, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Jimmy Lunceford. During this time, they made their uncredited movie debut, in the 1932 short Pie, Pie Blackbird, featuring Eubie Blake and his orchestra.[2][6] The brothers attributed their success to their unique style of dancing - a hybrid of tap dance, ballet, and acrobatics sometimes called "acrobatic dancing" or "flash dancing" [1] - which was greatly in demand during this time.[7]

Producer Samuel Goldwyn saw them at the Cotton Club and invited them to California to be a part of Kid Millions (1934), their first performances in a Hollywood movie. The brothers made their Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and also appeared in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's musical Babes in Arms in 1937. They impressed their choreographer, George Balanchine, who invited them to appear in Babes in Arms. With Balanchine's training, they learned many new stunts. Their talent led many to presume they were trained ballet dancers.[8]

Ben Bernie with the Nicholas Brothers, photographed during a Radio City broadcast (Radio Mirror magazine, April 1936)

By 1940, they had moved to Hollywood and for several decades divided their time between movies, nightclubs, concerts, Broadway, television, and extensive tours of Latin America, Africa, and Europe.[1] They toured England with a production of Blackbirds.[2] They gave a Royal Command Performance at the London Paladium for King George VI in 1948.[6]

In 1991, the Nicholas Brothers received Kennedy Center Honors in recognition of their six decades of achievements. A year later, a documentary film, We Sing & We Dance, celebrated their careers and included tributes from Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, M.C. Hammer, and Clarke Peters. In 1994, members of the cast of Hot Shoe Shuffle also paid them tribute.[9]


The Nicholas Brothers taught master classes in tap dance as teachers-in-residence at Harvard University and Radcliffe at Ruth Page Visiting Artists. Among their known students are Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson.[2] Several of today's master tap dancers have performed with or been taught by the brothers: Dianne Walker, Sam Weber, Lane Alexander, Mark Mendonca, Terry Brock,[10] Colburn Kids Tap/L.A, Channing Cook Holmes,[11] Chris Baker, Artis Brienzo, Chester Whitmore, Darlene Gist, Chris Scott, Tobius Tak,[12] Carol Zee, and Steve Zee.[13]

Style and moves[edit]

External video
YouTube logo
Nicholas Brothers - Jumpin' Jive
video icon Stormy Weather in color - The Nicholas Brothers and Cab Calloway - Colorized with DeOldify

The brothers were particularly known for their expressive use of their hands and arms while dancing, particularly tap. One of their signature moves was to leapfrog down a long, broad flight of stairs, while completing each step with a split. Its best remembered performance is in the finale of the movie Stormy Weather (1943).[3] In that routine, the Nicholas Brothers leapt exuberantly across the orchestra's music stands and danced on the top of a grand piano in a call and response act with the pianist, to the tune of "Jumpin' Jive".[3] Fred Astaire once told the brothers that this dance number was the greatest movie musical sequence he had ever seen. Numerous articles have been written about this whole dance being filmed in one take and unrehearsed. As unbelievable as that sounds, the Nicholas Brothers confirmed it in an interview shortly before their recognition at the 14th Annual Kennedy Center Honors. The choreographer, Nick Castle, said, "Just do it. Don`t rehearse it, just do it." And so it was done, unrehearsed and in one take, which relieved Harold Nicholas because he did not want to do the rigorous routine over and over all night.[14][3][15]

In another signature move, they would rise from a split without using their hands.[3] Gregory Hines declared that if their biography were ever filmed, their dance numbers would have to be computer-generated because no one now could emulate them.[3] Ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov once called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life.[16]

Personal lives[edit]


Fayard married four times. His marriage to Geraldine Pate lasted from 1942 until their divorce in 1955.[17][18] That year, he married Mexican dancer Victoria Barron.[19][20] As of May 1960, that marriage remained intact, with "Vicky" also working alongside Fayard professionally.[21] He married Barbara January in 1967,[18] the same year he converted to the Baháʼí Faith,[22] and they remained together until her death in 1998. He married Katherine Hopkins in 2000.[23]

He died on January 24, 2006, of pneumonia contracted after a stroke.[3] His memorial service, presided over by Mary Jean Valente of A Ceremony of the Heart, was standing-room only and featured personal tributes, music, dance, and one last standing ovation.[24]

Two of Fayard's granddaughters dance as the "Nicholas Sisters" [25] and have won awards for their performances.[26]


Harold was married three times.[27] From 1942 to 1951, he was married to singer and actress Dorothy Dandridge, with whom he had one child, Harolyn Nicholas, who was born with a severe intellectual disability[28] In Paris, he had a son, Melih Nicholas, with his second wife Elayne Patronne. He lived on New York's Upper West Side for twenty years with his third wife, producer and former Miss Sweden, Rigmor Alfredsson Newman.[citation needed] Harold died July 3, 2000, of a heart attack following minor surgery.[29][30]


According to a Los Angeles Times article on the brothers, "Because of racial prejudice, they appeared as guest artists, isolated from the plot, in many of their films. This was a strategy that allowed their scenes to be easily deleted for screening in the Jim Crow-era South".[31]

Carmen Miranda, something of a sensation on Broadway and therefore a subject for exploitation in this appearance, performs four characteristic numbers but plays no part in the film save as herself. Charlotte Greenwood contributes comedy and a bit of dancing, both in the vein she is known for, but it is the Nicholas Brothers, Negro dance team, which stops the show.[32]

— Down Argentine Way (20th Century-Fox) - REVIEW, Motion Picture Herald

Awards and honors[edit]

Other achievements[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Error | Kennedy Center". The Kennedy Center. Archived from the original on November 1, 2006.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Biography" Archived October 30, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. The Nicholas Brothers' official website.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Dancer Fayard Nicholas dies at 91", USA Today (Associated Press) (January 25, 2006).
  4. ^ "Nicholas Brothers". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. November 6, 2013.
  5. ^ Imogen Sara Smith, "The Nicholas Brothers" Archived November 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Dance Heritage Coalition, 2012.
  6. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis; Segal, Lewis (January 26, 2006). "Fayard Nicholas, 91; He Was Elder Half of Tap-Dancing Nicholas Brothers". Los Angeles Times. p. 136 – via open access
  7. ^ Persky-Hooper, Marci (August 22, 1987). "The Nicholas Brothers: 50 Years Of Footwork". New Pittsburgh Courier. p. 6. ProQuest 201781716.
  8. ^ Biography (p. 5) Archived October 30, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Nicholas Brothers website.
  9. ^ "The Nicholas Brothers - Home". Archived from the original on October 17, 2010.
  10. ^ "NWT". NWT.
  11. ^ "Los Angeles Choreographers and Dancers - Colburn Kids Tap/L.A". Archived from the original on February 4, 2007.
  12. ^ "National Tap Ensemble cast". Archived from the original on February 23, 2007.
  13. ^ Everybody Dance! meet our teachers Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Those Dapper Tappers", Chicago Tribune, 22 Dec 1991.
  15. ^ Nicholas Brothers dancing in "Jumpin' Jive" in Stormy Weather (1943)
  16. ^ Mackrell, Judith (October 6, 2016). "Mean feet: the tap-dancing duo who were Fred Astaire's heroes". The Guardian.
  17. ^ "Nevada County Marriages, 1862-1993," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 22 July 2021), Fayard Nicholas and Geraldine Pate, 10 Feb 1942; citing Marriage, Clark, Nevada, United States, Nevada State Museum and Historical Society, Las Vegas; FHL microfilm 005241845.
  18. ^ a b Gates, Henry Louis; Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks (2008). The African American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-19-516019-2.
  19. ^ Hill, Constance Valis (2000). Brotherhood in Rhythm : The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 243. ISBN 0-19-513166-5.
  20. ^ "Secret Told". The Pittsburgh Courier. November 5, 1955. p. 1. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  21. ^ "Rusty Draper Swings Into La Fiesta Light". El Paso Times. May 29, 1960. p. 14-B. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  22. ^ "". Archived from the original on October 9, 2007.
  23. ^ Loudon, Janet (August 6, 2001). "Tap-dancing brothers honored as artistic pioneers". The Post-Star. Glens Falls, New York. pp. 7, 12. Retrieved March 27, 2022 – via Actress Katherine Hopkins Nicholas, Fayard's lovely blonde bride of one year, said he is a beautiful human being as well as a beautiful star and told of their romance after his beloved first wife died.
  24. ^ Program of Fayard Nicholas' memorial service Archived October 1, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ Misha Berson, "Can't stop the hop: Swing-dance artists visit Seattle", The Seattle Times, August 16, 2006.
  26. ^ Century Ballroom Presents, 2nd Annual The Masters of Lindy Hop and Tap[permanent dead link]
  27. ^ "Fayard Nicholas of renowned Nicholas Brothers dancing duo dies", Jet, February 13, 2006.
  28. ^ Sanders, Charles L. (August 22, 1963). "Tragic Story Of Dorothy Dandridge's Retarded Daughter". Jet. pp. 22–23. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  29. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (July 4, 2000). "Harold Nicholas, Dazzling Hoofer, Is Dead at 79". New York Times. Retrieved June 9, 2010. The cause was heart failure following surgery at New York Hospital, said Bruce Goldstein, a friend and a writer of the 1992 documentary, Nicholas Brothers: We Sing and We Dance.
  30. ^ "Harold Nicholas Obit". National Public Radio. July 3, 2000. Retrieved June 9, 2010. Harold Nicholas suffered a heart attack early today, following minor surgery at a New York hospital.
  31. ^ Dennis McLellan and Lewis Segal, "Nicholas Brothers - Dance Team", Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2000, and January 26, 2006.
  32. ^ "Motion Picture Herald (Sep-Oct 1940) - Lantern".
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Awards & Honors" Archived October 30, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Nicholas Brothers website.
  34. ^ a b "Nicholas Brothers: Harold and Fayard". Archived from the original on November 29, 2006. Retrieved January 7, 2007. - Fayard and Harold Nicholas biography
  35. ^ "Winners: 1989 / Choreographer". Tony Awards.
  36. ^ PBS Documentary "Free to Dance" timeline(2001), Great Performances
  37. ^ "DANCEMUSEUM.ORG". Archived from the original on August 15, 2009.
  38. ^ "2011 National Film Registry More Than a Box of Chocolates". Library of. December 28, 2011. Retrieved December 28, 2011.
  39. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.

Further reading[edit]

  • Constance Valis Hill, Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers ISBN 0-19-513166-5

External links[edit]