Nicholas Brothers

Nicholas Brothers

Nicholas Brothers, African-American tap dance team consisting of Fayard Antonio Nicholas, 1914-2006, b. Mobile, Ala., and Harold Lloyd Nicholas, 1921-2000, b. Winston-Walem, N.C. Performing on stage and in films, they combined dance genres—tap, jazz, and ballet—in polished routines that spotlighted their elegantly sophisticated style, fine timing, complex step patterns, and superb athleticism—particularly their spectacular mid-air splits. Sons of vaudeville musicians, they made their debut in 1928 on their parents' show circuit. Four years later they opened at Harlem's Cotton Club and appeared in their first film short. In 1934 they danced in Kid Millions, the first of their many Hollywood movies, which also include The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935), Down Argentine Way (1940), Sun Valley Serenade (1941), Stormy Weather (1943, in which they performed their famous "Jumpin' Jive" routine), and The Pirate (1948, their last movie together). The brothers also appeared in many stage productions, including Broadway's Ziegfield Follies (1936) and Babes in Arms (1937), and on television. Late in their careers, both brothers did solo work as dancers and in dramatic roles.

See C. V. Hill, Brotherhood In Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers (2000).

The Nicholas Brothers were a famous African-American team of dancing brothers, Fayard (19142006) and Harold Nicholas (19212000). With their highly acrobatic technique ("flash dancing"), high level of artistry and daring innovations, they were considered by many the greatest tap dancers of their day. Growing up surrounded by Vaudeville acts as children, they became stars of the jazz circuit during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance and went on to have successful careers performing on stage, film, and television well into the 1990's.


Fayard Antonio Nicholas was born October 20 1914 in Mobile, Alabama. Harold Lloyd Nicholas was born March 27 1921 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The Nicholas Brothers grew up in Philadelphia, the sons of musicians who played in their own band at the old Standard Theater, their mother at the piano and father on drums. At the age of three, Fayard was always seated 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. Neither Fayard nor Harold had any formal dance training.

They became the featured act at Harlem's legendary Cotton Club in 1932, when Harold was 11 and Fayard was 18. They were the only entertainers in the African American cast allowed to mingle with white patrons.

In that exhilarating hybrid of tap dance, ballet and acrobatics, sometimes called acrobatic dancing or "flash dancing," no individual or group surpassed the effect that the Nicholas Brothers had on audiences and on other dancers. In 1938, there was a face-off dance competition at the Cotton Club between the Nicholas Brothers and the Berry Brothers, an African-American acrobatic dance trio. It has become a legendary confrontation, a sort of dance-fight for supremacy. By some accounts the Berry Brothers were more athletic but the Nicholas brothers were better overall performers - better at pleasing the crowd.

Two years later they were in Hollywood and for several decades alternated between movies, nightclubs, concerts, Broadway, television, and extensive tours of Latin America, Africa, and Europe.

The Nicholas brothers taught master classes in tap dance as teachers-in-residence at Harvard University and Radcliffe as Ruth Page Visiting Artists. Among their known students are Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson. 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, Colburn Kids Tap/L.A, Channing Cook Holmes, Chris Baker, Artis Brienzo, Chester Whitmore, Tobius Tak, Carol Zee and Steve Zee.

Harold died July 3, 2000 of a heart attack following minor surgery.Fayard died January 24, 2006 of pneumonia (a complication from a stroke).

Personal lives

Fayard married three times - his last wife, Katherine Hopkins (2000 - 24 January 2006) (until his death), Barbara January (1967 - 1998) (until her death) with 1 child, and Geraldine Pate (? - 1942) and his(divorced) with 2 children, Tony and Paul Nicholas. Fayard was a member of the Bahá'í Faith since 1967.

Upon his death his memorial service was standing room only. Presided over by Mary Jean Valente of "A Ceremony of the Heart", the service was a moving collection of personal tributes, music and dance and as appropriate, one last standing ovation. See program for full details at

Two of Fayard's granddaughters call themselves the Nicholas Sisters and continue their dances and award winning achievements.

Harold was first married to actress Dorothy Dandridge from 1942 to 1951, the couple had one child, Harolyn Nicholas, who was born severely mentally handicapped. Ultimately Harold also married three times.

Style and moves

One of their signature moves was to dance down a huge flight of broad stairs, leapfrogging over each other and landing in a complete split on each step. This move was performed in the finale of their most famous performance, the movie Stormy Weather (see photo above). Fred Astaire once told the brothers that the "Jumpin' Jive" dance number in Stormy Weather was the greatest movie musical sequence he had ever seen. In that famous routine, the Nicholas Brothers fearlessly and exuberantly dance on drums and leap across music stands in an orchestra. In the finale, they leap-frog down a sweeping staircase, pictured above.

One of their signature moves was a "no-hands" splits, where they went into the splits and returned to their feet without using their hands. Gregory Hines declared that if their biography was ever filmed, their dance numbers would have to be computer generated because no one could duplicate them. Famed choreographer George Balanchine called their acrobatic movement ballet, despite their lack of formal training. Ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov once called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life.


  • "Pie, Pie Blackbird" (1932) (short subject)
  • The Emperor Jones" (1933) (Harold Nicholas)
  • "Syncopancy" (1933) (short subject) (Harold Nicholas)
  • Kid Millions (1934)
  • "An All-Colored Vaudeville Show" (1935) (short subject)
  • The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935)
  • Coronado (1936)
  • "The Black Network" (1936) (short subject)
  • My American Wife (1936)
  • Babes in Arms (1937)
  • Calling All Stars (1937)
  • My Son Is Guilty (1939)
  • Down Argentine Way (1940)
  • Tin Pan Alley (1940)
  • The Great American Broadcast (1941)
  • Sun Valley Serenade (1941)
  • Orchestra Wives (1942)
  • Stormy Weather (1943)
  • Take It or Leave It (1944)
  • The Reckless Age (1944) (Harold Nicholas)
  • Carolina Blues (1944) (Harold Nicholas)
  • "Dixieland Jamboree" (1946) (short subject)
  • The Pirate (1948)
  • Pathe News Reel (1948)
  • Botta e Riposta (1951)
  • El Misterio del carro express (1953)
  • El Mensaje de la muerte (1953)
  • Musik im Blut (1955)
  • Bonjour Kathrin (1956)
  • L'Empire de la nuit (1963) (Harold Nicholas)
  • The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970) (Fayard Nicholas)
  • Uptown Saturday Night (1974) (Harold Nicholas)
  • That's Entertainment! (1974) (archive footage)
  • Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? (1975) (archive footage)
  • Disco 9000 (1976) (Harold Nicholas)
  • That's Dancing! (1985) (archive footage)
  • Tap (1989) (Harold Nicholas)
  • That's Black Entertainment (1990) (archive footage)
  • The Five Heartbeats (1990) (Harold Nicholas)
  • ''"Alright" (Janet Jackson song) and video (1992)
  • The Nicholas Brothers: We Sing and We Dance (1992)
  • Funny Bones (1995) (Harold Nicholas)
  • I Used to Be in Pictures (2000)
  • Night at the Golden Eagle (2002) (Fayard Nicholas)
  • Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There (2003)
  • Hard Four (2005)


  • Harold has received the Dea Award from the Dance Educators of America
  • Harold received the Bay Area Critics Circle Award (Best Principal Performance, Stompin' at the Savoy)
  • Harold received the Harbor Performing Arts Center Lifetime Achievement Award
  • honorary doctorate from Harvard University for both brothers
  • Black Film makers Hall of Fame (1978)
  • A retrospective of their work in films on the Academy Awards television special (1981)
  • Ellie Award (1984), National Film Society for both brothers
  • Apollo Theater's Hall of Fame (1986), First Class Inductees for both brothers
  • Ebony Lifetime Achievement Award (1987) for both brothers
  • Fayard received Broadway's 1989 Tony Award as Best Choreographer for "Black and Blue" along with his collaborators Cholly Atkins, Henry LeTang and Frankie Manning.
  • Scripps American Dance Festival Award
  • Kennedy Center Honors in 1991 for both brothers who were in attendance
  • The National Black Media Coalition Lifetime Achievement Award (1992)
  • Flo-Bert Award (1992)
  • New York's Tap Dance Committee, Gypsy Award (1994)
  • A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7083 Hollywood Blvd (1994)
  • Professional Dancer's Society, Dance Magazine Award of (1995)
  • Carnegie Hall sold out for a tribute to the brothers in 1998
  • National Museum of Dance Inductees (2001)

Further reading

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


External links

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