Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers


They were two of the most explosive dancers of the twentieth century, dazzling audiences with daredevil splits, slides, and hair-raising flips. But they were also highly sophisticated dancers, refining a centuries-old tradition of percussive dance into the rhythmic brilliance of jazz tap at its zenith. They were Fayard and Harold Nicholas, two American masters masterfully portrayed in this new dual biography by Constance Valis Hill. In Brotherhood in Rhythm, Hill interweaves an intimate portrait of these great performers with a richly detailed history of jazz music and jazz dance, both bringing their act to life and explaining their significance through a colorful analysis of their eloquent footwork, their full-bodied expressiveness, and their changing style. Hill vividly captures their soaring careers, from Cotton Club appearances with Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Jimmie Lunceford, to film-stealing big-screen performances with Chick Webb, Tommy Dorsey, and Glen Miller. Drawing on a deep well of research and endless hours of interviews with the Nicholas brothers themselves, she also documents their struggles against the nets of racism and segregation that constantly enmeshed their careers and denied them the recognition they deserved. And to provide essential background to their career and the development of their art, she also traces the three-hundred-year evolution of jazz tap, showing how it emerged in the Southern colonies in the 1700s, as the Irish jig and West African gioube mutated into the American jig and juba. More than a biography of two talented but underappreciated performers, Brotherhood in Rhythm offers a profound new understanding of this distinctively American art and its intricate links to the history of jazz.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 2000


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