Tap-dancing brothers Harold and Fayard Nicholas broke through the color barrier to become one of the most popular show business acts of the 1930s and ’40s. The duo began performing intricate, high-flying song-and-dance routines in New York City in the early 1930s, and went on to appear in such films as Kid Millions (1934), The Big Broadcast (1936) and Black Network. By the start of the 1940s, they were international celebrities.
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 black Vaudeville acts, particularly the dancers, including such notables of the time as Alice Whitman, Willie Bryant and Bill Robinson. He was completely fascinated by them and imitated their acrobatics and clowning for the kids in his neighborhood. Harold watched and imitated Fayard until he was able to dance too, then apparently, he worked his own ideas into mimicry.
It seems that the Nicholas Brothers were immediately successful. Word soon spread through the city about their ingenuity and unique dancing abilities, and they were first hired for a radio program, “The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour”, and then by local theaters, like the Standard and the Pearl. While at the Pearl Theater, the manager of the famous New York Vaudeville Showcase, The Lafayette, saw them. Overwhelmed by what he saw, he immediately signed them up for his theater.
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