After watching the dance number this time, I started thinking the power of Bill Robinson/Bojangles in the tap world. Below is the number from Swing Time (in two parts) and then a rendition of it I found on YouTube done by a Japanese dancer whose name I believe is Nozomi.
As I mentioned earlier, Astaire was more influenced by John Bubbles than Bill Rohinson, but evidently Eleanor Powell did know Bill Robinson and learned from him. The following clip is harder for me to watch than the Swing Time one because Powell does wear the traditional blackface minstrel makeup and outfit as she dances her impersonation of Bill Robinson. She pretty much has most of his steps and moves down, but her look has absolutely nothing to do with him, for he always dressed well (you'll see) and it just seems so wrong no matter how well meaning it was. So, here is her "tribute", introduced by Robert Young.
"Bojangles" Where did Robinson get that nickname from? There are a few stories of its origin. Bill Robinson evidently said he got the nickname as a child. In his book, "100 Years of the Negro in Show Business", black variety artist Tom Fletcher says it was given to Robinson by a bartender because Robinson was always in some kind of squabble and "bojangles" was slang for anyone who squabbles. Whatever the origin, that nickname for many people is a synonym for Bill Robinson. Here's another story. Country music artist Jerry Jeff Walker was in jail for public intoxication in 1965 and met in there a homeless white man who called himself "Mr. Bojangles". The man related a story about his dog, among other things, and then did a little tap dance. That supposedly inspired Walker to write the song, "Mr. Bojangles". It became a hit, but was also adopted by some tap dancers, particularly Sammy Davis, Jr., and Harold Cromer, to represent tap and what could happen to some performers. The tune was never about Bill Robinson but, because of the name, it has become too easy for many to think it's about him. Honi Coles never liked the tune for that very reason. In fact Honi put together a routine of many of Bill Robinson's iconic steps that many of us have learned and refer to as "The Bill Robinson Routine" that is often done to a tune associated with him called, "The New Low Down". There is a statue of Bill Robinson in his home town of Richmond, VA. The last two clips take place by that statue. The first clip reflects the misunderstanding of Robinson and the Walker tune, but has some interesting true information of why the statue is in its particular location. The second clip has my friend, Jason Bernard, dancing ala Bill "Bojangles" Robinson as a short personal tribute to him.
See you next time.
Keep everything Copasetic!