Mercedes Ellington, Broadway and television tap dancer, choreographer, director, and producer who has preserved and extended the musical legacy of her grandfather, Duke Ellington, and who has been hailed as "one of the brightest dancing stars this universe has ever known," was born to Ruth Silas and musician and bandleader Mercer Ellington. The United States has had few notable three-generation families in the performing arts, and even fewer still are families are those of color. The Ellington family is one of those unique entities. Mercedes however, chose a different road than her father and grandfather; instead of music, she chose dance. She began her dance training very young and continued with several instructors until she won a scholarship to the Metropolitan Opera School of Ballet, where she made her New York City Opera debut in 1977. Upon completion she enrolled in and graduated from Juilliard, where she studied with the great Antony Tudor and Donald Sadler, with a degree in ballet and modern dance. Even as a student, she was set apart as a beautiful, young dancer whose musicality and technique were dazzling. Her work continued in a steady and rapid flow.
In 1952 she broke the color barrier on national television in the sixties by appearing on the Jackie Gleason Show as one of the June Taylor Dancers. She was on the show for seven years, eventually became captain of the troupe and June Taylor became and remained a mentor to Mercedes throughout her career. Shortly after her television tenure, she launched her Broadway career as a featured and chorus dancer in No, No Nanette (1971), Oh Kay! (1991), Happy New Year (1980), The Grand Tour (1979), and Harry Chapin's The Night That Made America Famous (1985). She was also featured in George Wein's Jazz Festival productions Black Broadway and Wild Women Don't Get the Blues. In 1981 she starred with Gregory Hines, Judith Jamison, Hinton Battle and Gregg Burge in Sophisticated Ladies, dancing eight times a week with her father conducting an orchestra playing music by her grandfather. Performing led to choreographic and directorial assignments, nationally and internationally. Her role as choreographer for the Broadway production of Play On! (1997), a takeoff of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night set in Harlem during the latter part of its first renaissance, and with music by Duke Ellington, won her a Tony nomination.
From 1982 to 1992 Ms. Ellington was the artistic director of Balletap, USA, aka DancEllington. In 2001, for Black Heritage Month, she directed Four Women, a profile of the wives of Louis Armstrong. In 2002 she contributed her services for the same cause with a salute to Langston Hughes called Cotton Club Rhapsody at New York's Club La Mama. She also directed the Broadway Cares/ Equity fights AIDS Tribute to the Spirit of Harlem in 2001; and in 2004 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Nothin' Like a Dame. Ms. Ellington also choreographed/staged Queen Esther Marrow's Walk Tall Gospel Show which received a five-star rating in Berlin and a European tour. In 2009 Ms. Ellington was honored with a FloBert Lifetime Achievement Award by the New York Committee to Celebrate National Tap Dance Day.
With the multitude of theatrical and choreographic credits, and her continuing tours with small and large musical celebrations of the music of Duke Ellington which she conceives, directs, and choreographs, Ms Ellington most humbly describes herself as "A Composer of Dances and Situations."
[Sources: Maurice Curry, Introduction to the 2009 FloBert Award Ceremonies, Tap Extravaganza, New York City, June 16, 2009; Constance Valis Hill, Tap Dancing America, A Cultural History (2010)]
Dancer, singer, actor, mentor, legend. These are just a few of the titles that can be associated with the 2007 Tapology Tap Dance Festival Honoree. Having traveled the world from Cairo, to London, to Switzerland, even hosting his own variety show in Australia, Arthur Duncan is much more than a song and dance man.
Duncan’s inspirational life achievement epitomizes the purpose of the annual Tapology Tap Dance Festival in mid-Michigan. From his start as a newsboy in California, where he sang for audiences who showed appreciation by throwing coins his way; to a decision to leave college where he was studying to be a pharmacist, Arthur Duncan’s incredible success is proof that passion for what you do and following your dreams does indeed pay off.
In the mid 1960s, Arthur Duncan was the first African American to regularly appear on a long running television series.The series was the Lawrence Welk Show. He has performed in movies, including Tap and Tap Heat, which was screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival and won the Urban World Film Festival in 2004. Other credits include television shows such as Diagnosis Murder, Columbo, The Betty White Show and stages and night clubs across the globe. He has appeared with Red Skelton, Sammy Davis Jr., Gregory Hines, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Dick Van Dyke, Tommy Tune, Lionel Hampton and more.
Tapology joins the 2004 Flo-Bert Award for Lifetime Achievement of Tap Artistry in New York City, and the 2005 Living Treasure in American Dance Award from Oklahoma City University in recognizing Arthur Duncan as a Master Tap Dancer and inspiration with the Tapology Living Legends Award.
Tapology’s Living Legends Award recognizes the contributions and milestones of tap dancers who have made history and continue to live the example of a courageous life for 21st century youth.
Germaine Ingram of Philadelphia. Festival Honoree – Performer, Documentarian, Attorney and was Asst Superintendent for Philadelphia Schools. Ms. Ingram has taught tap in workshops in the U.S. and Europe and to dance and theater majors at Philadelphia's University of the Arts. She has choreographed for musical theater, as well as for her ensemble with Robinson. Germaine will be leading Advanced and Intermediate Workshops. She also participates with the Visiting Schools Day program to introduce youth to tap as a lifestyle and an enduring form of our American heritage.
“As a kid in the late 1920s in Hell’s Kitchen,” Harold Cromer recalls, “my twin sister and I used to go to the Chelsea Theatre on 8th Ave. where I saw the great Bill Robinson tap dancing. As kids, we were all playing hockey out in the street on roller skates. While I was roller skating and playing hockey, flashbacks of Robinson would c me to me, and there I was, trying to emulate him on roller skates—and not falling down, either!”
Cromer’s roller-skating routine became his trademark, bringing him steady exposure in theater, vaudeville and films during the 1930s and 40s. His period of greatest success came during the early 1950s, after he joined forces with another gifted dancer, James Cross, and became a member of the comedy team “Stump and Stumpy”. The pair worked steadily in theaters and nightclubs (often on bills with the likes of Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra), as well as on television programs such as The Milton Berle Show.
During these years, Stump and Stumpy inspired a generation of young comedians—including Jerry Lewis, who has publicly cited their influence.
They toured the “Black Vaudeville” circuit with the likes of the Nicholas Brothers, Buck and Bubbles, and Duke Ellington. The heart of the Stump and Stumpy routine was tap and comedy, often performed in theater. So good were the pair, that it’s said Mel Brooks, Jerry Lewis and others have “borrowed” the routines to perform in other venues. Harold “Stumpy” Cromer would later say that Mel Brooks stole from the act to create Brooks’ The Producers.
On the radio, Cross and Cromer appeared on The Steve Allen Show; on television they appeared on the Kate Smith Hour, and The Milton Berle Show; on stage they made appearances with the likes of Frank Sinatra. Continuing to experience success, they were featured in the movie This is the Army.
A long list of other appearances for Stump and Stumpy includes leading theaters and night clubs with Count Basie, and tours with Nat Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Stan Kenton, and Sophie Tucker.
Described as a dancer “with fleet-footed precision” by David Freeland of the New York Press, and “one of the last old fashioned song and dance men,” Harold Cromer represents more than 70 years of tap performance, tradition and history.
He continues to give back to the community and to youth and will be teaching tap and dance workshops at this year’s Tapology festival.
Having been a true pioneer of Tap dance, vaudeville, radio, stage, television and movies, we are proud to honor Harold “Stumpy” Cromer with the Tapology 2008 Living Legend Award, during the Living Legends Lunch held October 25, 2008 at Sarvis Food Center on the Flint Cultural Center Campus.
Tina Pratt is an extraordinary tap, ballet and modern dancer, producer, writer and lecturer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her performing experience is quite extensive, having performed with a number of fine entertainers, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Nancy Wilson, Flip Wilson, Redd Foxx, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, Frank Fontaine and Shecky Green. The roster of great dancers she has performed with also includes Baby Lawrence, Bunny Briggs, Shorts Davis, Howard “Sandman” Sims, Hines, Hines, and Dad and many, many more. She has performed jazz-tap with such greats as Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Ernie Wilkins, Jaki Byard, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Tommy Turrentine and Milt Buckner.
Ms. Pratt has presented lecture demonstrations on the history of tap dancing at Emerson College in Boston as well as the Selma Burke School in Pittsburgh, NY University, Boys & Girls High, NY City Public School and Libraries, and Pace University. She is currently working on research on the history of jazz-tap and toured Europe for several seasons, teaches at The Jazz Cultural Theatre, is a member of the “International Hoofers Club”, writes for Jazz Spotlight News paper and is Producer and founder of Show Biz Assoc. productions “Salute to Black American Dances and Dancers.”