Fayard Nicholas
National Visionary

October 20, 1914 - January 24, 2006
Born in Mobile, Alabama

Dancer, Actor, Choreographer

Although he never took formal dance lessons, Fayard Nicholas went on to become half of the best tap dancing duo of all time, the Nicholas Brothers. On film, and in theaters and nightclubs around the world, Nicholas thrilled audiences and made lasting contributions to dance world.

Born on October 20, 1914 in Mobile, Alabama, Nicholas grew up in Philadelphia watching the Vaudeville entertainers perform at the old Standard Theater, where his parents played in the orchestra. Inspired by the performances he saw as a young child, he began imitating the dancers and then taught his younger brother, Harold, the steps he had learned.

The brothers first gained fame in Philadelphia, where they were hired for radio programs and local theaters, and eventually performed at New York’s famed Cotton club, with music legends such as Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. Fayard and Harold began their Hollywood movie career in 1934 with "Kid Millions," and appeared in over thirty films, the most famous of which is the 1943 “Stormy Weather” in which they performed a spectacular staircase routine. The brothers also enjoyed a successful Broadway career beginning with their 1936 debut in the George Balanchine’s “Ziegfeld Follies.” Fayard Nicholas went on to participate in various stage productions, and in 1989 won a Tony Award for his choreography in “Black and Blue.”

Despite their crowd pleasing, showstopping acts, the Nicholas brothers faced racism in the entertainment industry and never gained the popular success that their talents so readily warranted. The Nicholas bothers were never given starring roles that White contemporaries such as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair were awarded. Although tap dance began to loose its popularity, and Fayard developed arthritis, the brothers continued to perform around the world, including at President Eisenhower’s inauguration, a royal command performance for the King of England, and for the USO in Vietnam.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
In the 1980s and 90s, Nicholas and his brother finally began to receive critical recognition that they deserved, winning numerous awards and honors including a Gypsy Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, the American Black Lifetime Achievement Award, induction into the Apollo Theater’s Hall of Fame and the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame, as well as a star on Hollywood Boulevard. In recent years, Nicholas continued to inspire young dancers as the Ruth Page Visiting Artists in Dance at Harvard University and Radcliffe and as a guest lecturer at San Francisco State University, UCLA, University of Southern California, and University of Hawaii.

Nicholas died of pneumonia on January 24, 2006 after suffering a stroke two months earlier. He is survived by his wife, Katherine Hopkins, and three children, Anthony, Paul, and Nina, from previous marriages. His granddaughters continue the family tradition, performing as the Nicholas Sisters.



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