Fayard and Harold Nicholas, whose careers spanned more than six decades, made up one of the most beloved dance teams in the history of dance - the Nicholas Brothers. Legends in their own time and most recently portrayed in the award-winning made-for-television documentary, "We Sing and We Dance," they were best known for their unforgettable appearances in Hollywood musicals of the 1930s and 40s. Their artistry and choreographic brilliance, as manifested in their unique style - a smooth mix of tap, ballet, and acrobatic moves - have astonished and excited Vaudeville, theater, film, and television audiences all over the world. According to "Who's Who in Hollywood", the Nicholas Brothers are "...certainly the greatest dance team ever to work in the movies."
At a very young age, soon after their professional debut in their home town of Philadelphia, the brothers became international stars of stage and screen, and 60 years later, they were the recipients of prestigious Kennedy Center Honors for their extraordinary contribution to American culture. Their activities continued. In April 1995, the Nicholas Brothers received the "Dance Magazine" Award around the same time as the opening of Harold's latest film, "Funny Bones", and in April 1996 they completed a very successful residency at Harvard and Radcliff as Ruth Page Visiting Artists in Dance.
Born into a show business family, the Nicholas Brothers honed their natural talents early on. Their parents were musicians and led the orchestra at the Standard Theater in Philadelphia. In 1932, the same year they made their first film, "Pie, Pie, Blackbird", with Eubie Blake, they opened at the Cotton Club, and remained there for two years straight, working side by side with the likes of Duke Ellington, Cab Callaway, and Ethel Waters. Samuel Goldwyn saw them at the fashionable club and invited them to California for their first Hollywood movie, "Kid Millions" (1934). Harold, in addition to his dancing abilities, was a natural comedian, impersonator, and singer, and was often featured by himself. His personal screen debut was in "The Emperor Jones", (1933), with Paul Robeson. Just after their first Broadway show "Ziegfeld Follies", the brothers went abroad for the first time to star in Lew Leslie's "Blackbirds", in 1936 in the West End of London.
When the brothers were honored with a retrospective of their work in films on the Academy Awards television special in 1981, on could recall with pleasure some of their early appearances on the screen of "The Big Broadcast" of 1936; with Gracie Allen and George Burns; in "Sun Valley Serenade", (1941); with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, featuring Dorothy Dandridge dancing with the brothers in the "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" number; in "Orchestra Wives" (1942), where they performed one of their most beautiful routines to Glenn Miller's music of "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo"; and in "The Pirate" (1948), in a dance with Gene Kelly.
The Nicholas Brothers were contracted to the Twentieth Century Fox studio in 1940 and made six films there. In all, they have made over thirty films, of which they themselves consider "Stormy Weather" (1943), their personal favorite. It features their now-classic, breathtaking staircase routine, their last appearance on film doing a routine. Their last appearance on film as a team was one of the highlights of MGM's 1985 compilation, "That's Dancing!"
Fayard had a dramatic role in "The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970), and Harold's solo appearances include "Carolina Blues" (1944), in the spectacular Mr. Beebe number; "The Reckless Age" (1944); "Uptown Saturday Night" (1944), as Little Seymour, with Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, and Harry Belafonte; "Tap" with Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr.; Robert Townsend's "The Five Heartbeats, (1991); and "Funny Bones:, (1995).
The Nicholas Brothers' Broadway debut was in the Vincent Minelli-directed and George Balanchine-choreographed "Ziegfeld Follies" of 1936, with Bob Hope, Eve Arden, Fanny Brice, and Josephine Baker. Balanchine was so taken by the youngsters that he put them into the original Rodgers and Hart's "Babes in Arms:, (1937). Later, they starred in "St. Louis Woman", (1946). Here, Harold played Little Augie, the jockey hand, and introduced the now classic "Come Rain or Come Shine" from the Johnny Mercer / Harold Arlen score. Recent theatrical awards have included a Bay Area Theater Critics Circle Award for Best Principal Performance to Harold for "Stompin' at the Savoy", and a Tony Award for Fayard for co-choreographing the Broadway hit "Black and Blue" (1989). Harold has enjoyed taking over the lead in Ellington's "Sophisticated Ladies", the role of Mr. Magix in "My One and Only", and the role of Daddy Bates in "The Tap Dance Kid". The year before last, he originated the role of Dr. Rhythm, in "If These Shoes Could Talk" at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
In addition to the Kennedy Center Honors, the Nicholas Brothers have received numerous awards, including the Ellie, the Gypsy, and the American Black Lifetime Achievement Award. They were inducted into the first class of the Apollo Theater's Hall of Fame and the Black Filmmaker's Hall of Fame and received their star on Hollywood Boulevard. There have been film tributes at the National Film Theater in London, sponsored by the British Institute; at the D.C. Filmfest in Washington, C.C.; and at the JVC Jazz Festival in New York, to name a few. Most recently, the Players presented an evening of Nicholas Brothers films. The Cinematheque de la Danse in France is planning a film retrospective to honor the brothers later this year.
The Nicholas Brothers were the recipients of the 1998 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in Modern Dance, to be presented in June, and they are the subject of "Brotherhood in Rhythm"; The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers", a 1998 Ph.D dissertation at New York University by Constance Valis Hill. The act came to an end in 2000, when Harold died of heart failure. Fayard died on January 24, 2006, in Toluca Lake, California.
Today, the genius of the Nicholas Brothers continues to inspire tap dancers around the world. Several famous performers, including Savion Glover and Gregory Hines, have credited the duo with their success.
(Courtesy of the program of the 1998 Carnegie Hall Event: "From Harlem to Hollywood" A Tribute to Nicholas Brothers, "Tap Legends")