Living In A Great Big Way – Bojangles, Le Gon, & Fats!

April 10, 2013 | Filed Under: Dancing Videos | Tagged: bojangles fats waller Hooray for love jeni legon tap dancing

The video below is one of my favorite Tap/Jazz Dancing clips ever! Hooray For Love is the name of the film that features some of the most original and talented performers of the time: Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Jeni Le Gon, & Thomas “Fats” Waller. And the song to which they sing, dance, and “move out” to is called Livin’ In A Great Big Way. In the clip Jeni Le Gon is being kicked out of her Harlem home, Fats is one of the moving men kicking Jeni out to the street, and Bojangles is the beloved Mayor of Harlem that has come to shed some light on Jeni’s tough day.

The first time I saw this clip I was a teenager and was with some friends watching a VHS collection called From CakeWalk to Lindy Hop. It was a huge collection of Tap, Jazz dance, Charleston, & Lindy Hop that was like almost 4 hours long! This particular clip stood out because at the time I was listening to a ton of Fats Waller’s music and was extremely delighted to see what the man actually looked like performing. The interaction/duet he has with Bojangles is one of the most entertaining piece of Jazz I have ever seen. And the dance between Jeni and Bojangles is so precises and seems so effortless that you feel like dancing along side with the two of them. This whole clip shows me how a performer can be so bad ass at their craft but yet keep the performance lighthearted.

Below is a short synopsis of the movie itself and bios on the performers…

Hooray For Love
Young would-be producer Doug Tyler meets singer Pat Thatcher twice, and makes the wrong impression both times. But Pat’s father, the Commodore, easily cons Doug into mortaging his ancestral home to invest in a show. When the producers abscond with Doug’s money, the show must close before it opens, unless one of the three can come up with a miracle.

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson
Bill Robinson quit school at age seven and began work as a professional dancer the following year. Bojangles (the name referred to his happy-go-lucky ebullience) starred in vaudeville, musical stage and movies. He invented the stair tap routine and was considered one of the world’s greatest tap dancers. His film debut was in Dixiana (1930). He worked in fifteen movies, but his movie fame came primarily from the films he made with Shirley Temple — The Little Colonel (1935), The Littlest Rebel (1935), and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). In 1989 the US Congress named his birth date as National Tap Dancing Day.

Jeni Le Gon
Born in 1916 in Chicago, Jeni Le Gon trained at Mary Bruce’s School of Dancing and performed as a chorus girl, later in vaudeville, from age 16. In Hollywood she appeared in her debut film, Hooray for Love (1935), as dancing partner of the great Bill Robinson. Though primarily a dancer, Jeni sang well and was an appealing, attractive light actress when (rarely) given the chance. In Hollywood films 1935-49, her earlier appearances were in specialty dance numbers; later, as with most black stars of the time, in servant roles. In the forties, Jeni played leads or second leads in at least 5 independently produced all-black cast films. She appeared on the New York stage periodically (playing leads in all-black productions) and later managed the Dance and Drama Playhouse in Los Angeles. In the 1960’s, Jeni Le Gon moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where she opened a dancing school. And was inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2002 (inaugural class).

Thomas “Fats” Waller
Thomas Waller was born in 1904. He was one of the most important pianist in the history of jazz. He studied piano with James P. Johnson, one of the masters of the stride piano in the 1920s. Fats began recording his first piano solos in 1923. He worked in the revue “Hot Chocolates” in the late 1920s as a composer. Along with Duke Ellington, he is one of the most prolific composers in jazz. His best songs are, “Ain’t misbehavin”, “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Black and Blue”, “Blue Turned Grey Over You” and “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now”. He formed his own group in 1934, Fats Waller and his Rhythm, and recorded many records for RCA Victor. Two of his most notable film appearances were in Stormy Weather (1943) and _King of Burlesque (1935)_. He died in 1943 on a train during a trip to California. He was just 39 years old.