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Bojangles "Stair Dance"

Stage Name

Birth Name

"Bojangles" William Luther Robinson

    Bill Robinson started hoofing at the age of six and got his first gig as a "Pick" for fifty cents a night. He was discovered while working in the beer garden between engagements to do a bit part in a vaudeville show called 'the South before the War' when he was just 12 years old. For a few seasons after that show moved on Robinson worked in a few local Burlesque Houses and became a professional tap dancer at the young age of 13. Robinson is said to have arrived in New York when he was 20 years of age and got his first job at Minors Theatre in the Bowery, then various eateries and finally Vaudeville Stages . At the age of 37, Robinson took a break and won some of the Buck dance contests the Stage show In Old Kentucky.

   His unique sound was partly due to the use of 'Wooden Taps' on his shoes.

Robinson credited James Barton and Jack Donahue for his style of tap dance, but would only say this to please his white hosts, his real mentor was said to be George Primrose. He is also noted for coining the term 'Copasetic' ( Although the Jewish people claim this term was around way before Bojangles.) He was famous for his anecdotes he would make while tapping and his version of the stair dance routine, altho he claimed to have invented it, it was being done by a few other dance stars long before him, namely King Rastus Brown. Robinson also was mentor to a few dancers of the day such as Derby Wilson and Bill Bailey. Although a very successful dancer who could make $6,500 a week dancing the Keith circuit he was not yet a star, Robinson would not achieve New York fame until he was in his 50's and would come in the style of a bird, Blackbirds that is.

    In 1928, three weeks after his show opened on Broadway, Lew Leslie needed some new talent for his Blackbirds Stage show. Leslie hired Robinson as an "Extra Attraction" and was assigned the 11pm late night spot. Robinson sang "Doin' the New Low Down" while he did his "Stair Dance Routine" and was an immediate success with the weekly gross for the show going from $9,000 to $27,00. Critics all hailed Robinson's dancing with one stating Robinson dancing as "Music of raindrops on a tin roof." With all this attention now coming Robinson heard the call and left for Hollywood in 1932. Shirley Temple came his way and in 1935, costarred with and coached her in "The Little Rebel" which was a huge success. Robinson would continue to make over 17 Movies in all.

   On April 29th. 1946, to celebrate his 60th year in show business, he was presented a plaque for his contribution to show business and that same day it was proclaimed "Bill Robinson Day" by Mayor O'Dwyer. Robinson was often hailed the "Mayor of New York" ( Honorary.) Today, Bojangles birthday is honored as "National Tap Dance Day."

   Robinson was said to have had very little education, had a nasty demeanor (there were times of kindness and generosity,) confrontational, quarrelsome, drank and gambled heavily and so on, but his dancing was extraordinary, especially his Tap dance scenes with little Shirley Temple were very endearing and legendary which is the way most people lovingly think of him today. Robinson was also an honorary member of the Police force in more than one big city. He had a gun permit and always carried a gold plated pistol. Robinson loved to play pool and liked it quiet when he made certain shots, at that time he would pull out his pistol, lay it on the edge of the pool table and take his shot, as the other patrons would become very quiet.

   Robinson appeared at the Cotton Club in Harlem and headlined many times with Cab Calloway. The 1932 movie titled 'Harlem is Heaven' was supposedly Robinson's true life story. Fred Astaire paid tribute to Bojangles by dancing a 'Bojangles routine' in the movie 'Swingtime'. Bojangles changed the way Tap dance would be done, Altho he did not create new steps, it was the way he did them that made the difference, he was up on the toes rather than flat foot buck and wing style of others and was upright and swinging.

Birth Place

Birth Date



Richmond, VA. 5/25/1878 - 11/25/1949 Fannie S. Clay (1922–1943)
        Lena Chase (1907–1922)    
            Elaine Plaines (1944–1949)      

Dance Types

Dance Partners

Music Titles

Buck & Wing George Cooper (during his Vaudeville days) 1930 - Brown Buddies
'Stair Dance' Jeni Le Gon 1930 - Happy
Tap Shirley Temple Bojangles in Harlum ( Swingtime)
$ Let's Scuffle' The Copasetic's $ Mr. Bojangles ( Sammy Davis)
  The Brown Buddy Girls (1932)  

Night Clubs



Cafe Zanzibar Apollo (7th Annual Midnight Benefit Show, 1943) 1889 - The South before the War
Cotton Club Broadway Theatre (1945) 1928 & 33 - Blackbirds
Hoofers Club Broadhurst Theatre (1939) 1930 - Fine and Dandy
Lafayette Theater Lafayette Theatre (1929) 1930 - Brown Buddies
Nixon Theater (1939) Liberty Theatre (1928) 1930s - Cotton Club Revue's
      Majestic Theatre (1940) 1932 - Hot From Harlem
      Minors Theatre (1898) 1939 - The Hot Mikado ( Worlds Fair)
      Nixon Theatre (1939) 1940 - All In Fun
            1945 - Memphis Bound



$1930 - Dixiana 1938 - Up The River 8/13/1932 - RKO Newsette
1932 - Harlem Is Heaven $ 1938 - Rebecca Sunnybrook Farm 9/1938 - Young Dancer Mag.
$1934 - King For A Day (Vitaphone) $ 1938 - Just Around The Corner 1/1939 - Stage Magazine.
1935 - Hooray For Love ( Le Gon) 1940 - Colored America on Parade 6/1939 - Theater Arts Monthly
1935 - In Old Kentucky 1942 - Hot Frogs 1939 - Esquire Magazine.
$1935 - Littlest Rebel 1942 - Let's Shuffle 6/25/1945 - Life Magazine
$1935 - The Little Colonel $1943 - Stormy Weather 6/1946 - Dance, Stage & Screen
1936 - Big Broadcast 1950 - The Negro in Entertainment. 12/1949 - Ebony Magazine.
$1936 - Dimples* ( Chor) $1985 - That's Dancing 1/1950 - Dance Mag.
$1936 - Swing Time ( Astaire) 1990 - At The Jazz Band Ball $ Mr. Bojangles: A Bio
1937 - One Mile from Heaven $ 2001 - Bojangles [ DVD] ... (Hines) $ Rap-Tap-Tap: Here's Bojangles
1938 - Road Demon       $ Jazz Dance (Marshall and Jean Stearns)
$ Vaudeville Videos vol6       Tap Dance Books


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