Living Legends


Bril Barrett

BRIL BARRETT is a dedicated tap dancer, whose mission is to preserve and promote tap dance as a percussive art form, foster respect and admiration for the history and culture of tap, and continuously create opportunities for the art form and its practitioners. Bril Barrett has started many outreach programs in Chicago’s public schools, Park districts and even a performing arts high school in Gary, Indiana. He ran an After School Matters Youth Tap Program for more than 10 years and has provided after school and summer jobs for more than 300 youth from underserved communities. As a Taptivist, Bril has spent many years creating an alternative to the school to prison pipeline that exists for many black and brown youth. A child can go from novice to professional without ever leaving our head-quarters in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. “I am most proud of our Novice to Professional Pipeline!” says Bril. He was named A Chicagoan of the Year and has his very own Ted Talk. Respect The Dance!


Melba Ayco

Ms. Melba Ayco, founder and Artistic Director of Northwest Tap Connection, is a Gullah-Geechee and Creole Storyteller, Tap Dance Historian, and Choreographer. Born in a small town on the north shores of New Orleans, she describes her life as a three-part harmony: born into segregation, survived integration, and enlightenment through cultural diversity.

NWTC imbues dance lessons with broader messages about self-esteem, respect and dissent — lessons that take on new life in the studio’s performances. For example, NWTC instructor Shakiah Danielson choreographed a number in response to police violence against AfricanAmericans set to Janelle Monáe’s Hell You Talmbout. The piece, performed by students, won the Audience Award at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, the world’s largest youth film festival.

“It’s a conversation about how police fit into our community,” says Ayco of the performance. Her three decades at Seattle Police Department (she retired as a supervisor for the Records Division in 2017) taught her just how vital such conversations are to our community.

“My work is to help children define themselves as socially conscious young people, with a vision of building tomorrow,” Ayco says. “We don’t want to raise another generation on senseless acts of violence.” Her life commitment is to define and share the African American experience through the performing arts.

Ms. Melba is the creator of African American Odyssey, a touring performance inclusive of spoken word, dance, and music that expresses the history and struggles of African Americans from a place of pride. Her new work, Odyssey, explores the common threads of culture, inclusive of dance, music, food, art, and traditions of African Americans and people of African Diaspora. Odyssey is a work-in-progress and the inspiration for creativity in the realms of dance, spoken word and storytelling. Odyssey 1 was presented at Seattle Theater Group’s 2015 production Dance This – the Brazilian Connection.

Through her dedication to the community and offering opportunities for growth and enlightenment for people of all ages and backgrounds, Ms. Melba has made a lasting, positive imprint on the greater Seattle area. To this end, she has received numerous accolades including the 2009 Mayor’s Art Award, the 2017 African Town Queen Award, and the 2017 Martin Luther King Medal of Community Service Award for District No. 2 of the City of Seattle.


Mercedes Ellington

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.

MEllingtonbullhorn Tapology2018In 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)]


The McFadden Brothers

The McFadden Brothers” are world-class entertainers whose career spans across many countries and venues. Their unique style and abilities have earned them the label as being a “triple threat,” in that they are both accomplished singers, tap dancers and musicians. Their show encompasses their own unique style of entertainment that only real-life brothers can. Their dancing style has that silken touch. Exibiting a wide range of steps from soft-shoe to street-corner moonwalking. Their voices complement each other, making their singing style very smooth and enjoyable. Topped off by their effortless-looking, but extremely difficult instrument playing. They have the ability many long for but few obtain. They intermix their singing, dancing and musical abilities with their own brand of comedy that creates a true entertainment experience. The McFadden Brothers have proved time and time again to possess an on-stage charisma that enables them to command and please audiences of all ages, leaving them with a fun and highly memorable experience that is rare in today’s world of entertainment.

The McFadden Brothers have shared the stage with some of the biggest names in show business; Wayne Newton, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Orlando, Lee Greenwood, Gladys Knight and The Count Basie Orchestra to name a few. They have played all types of venues from casino show rooms to arenas and coliseums including, MGM Grand and Hilton casinos in Las Vegas, Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City, Nimes Coliseum, Nimes, France, Rosemont Theater, Chicago, Lincoln Center, New York, Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, Cerritos, CA. They have performed for all types of audiences including most recently a USO tour to Kuwait and Iraq for our troops.


They have been entertaining since they were in elementary school, learning their licks from their father, Kansas City hoofer and all around entertainer Smilin’ Jimmy McFadden. Their Dad, danced with the likes of “The Count Basie Orchestra,” “Blanche Calloway’s Harlem Review,” “Jay McShann,” and many more of the top name entertainers and orchestra’s of the 30’s and 40’s. Along with leading a top notch tap dancing act of his own, “The 3 Chocolate Drops.” The 3 Chocolate Drops traveled around the eastern and central United States. Working in the same circuit as “The Berry Brothers,” “The Rhythm Kings” and another group by the name of “The Will Mastin Trio.”

Their theater credits began in 1985 with a play written by St. Louis television personality and playwright John Auble, who wrote “Steps, The Pops McFadden Story.” The play met with rave reviews in St. Louis and was held over an additional 4 months. In the mid 1990’s they were both cast and starred in “The Little Tommy Parker Celebrated Colored Minstrel Show,” which played in Kansas City at the Coterie Theater.” Written by playwright Carlyle Brown from New York who said “It was the best production he had seen because along with great acting ability, the actors were really playing the musical instruments.” In 2000, they were cast in a production called “After Hours,” produced for the H & R Block Theater at the Union Station. The play ran for 8 months and was met with rave reviews. Individually, Lonnie recently played Satchel Paige in a production written by Danny Cox entitled “The Monarchs Of KC” and Ronald recently played Wining Boy in “The Piano Lesson,” written by August Wilson.

While traveling with Wayne Newton, The McFadden Brothers were unique in that they played in his orchestra as musicians, were featured performers in the middle of the show as tap dancers and singers, and every where Mr. Newton needed an opening act, The McFadden Brothers also filled that spot.

In 2008, The McFadden Brothers released their first CD entitled “Chapter One,” a compilation of many of the songs their fans had been asking them to record for years. They are presently in the process of recording their second CD which will be entitled “Chapter Two.” This will be a compilation of all original compositions that fans have requested.

In 2009, The McFadden Brothers were the topic of a documentary movie entitled “Sons of a Hoofer,” produced by Reel Images and premiered in front of a sold out audience. Later that same year, they were the special guests of the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra for their Christmas Show. The McFadden Brothers were featured singing, tap dancing and as soloist musicians. In 2012 Lonnie released his own CD entitled “I Believe In Music” which features original songs written by him and his daughters and featured Lonnie, Ronald and Lonnie’s daughters Gina and Chloe McFadden.

It has been said that; “The McFadden Brothers are the Legitimate Link between the generation of Gregory Hines and Savion Glover.” In today’s world of entertainment, it is very rare to see performers with the ability to captivate, entertain and create a memorable experience for audiences of all ages. The McFadden Brothers are perfect for corporate events, casino showrooms, nightclub engagements or festivals. They travel with their own rhythm section but can accommodate up to an 18 piece big band.


Ivery Wheeler

At age 14, Wheeler met Maceo Anderson of “The Four Step Brothers”. In short order young Ivery become a hoofer performing in Anderson’s groups, “Four Steps and a Miss” and later “The Third Generation Steps”. Wheeler has credits in monumental hit “The Cotton Club” and Broadway & Paris performances of “Black and Blue”, Tony Award Winning musical. Ivery Wheeler has been dancing for 50 years. During the time, he’s mentored Savion Glover and been claimed as friend and confidant to Dianne Walker. Honored as the 2016 Tapology Living Legend for giving back to youth through the art of Tap.


Kevin Ramsey

Actor-Director-Filmmaker is a native of New Orleans who continues to cross-over varied artistic mediums, whether serving as the Co-Producer/Director/Writer on the award-winning short film “Tap Rap,” starring Savion Glover, to starring on Broadway in the award-winning Cy Coleman musical “The Life,” which garnered him an Outer Critics Circle nomination, as well as, his countless guest star appearances on such television network shows as “Cold Case,” “24,” and “Saving Grace.”

As a guest director/choreographer/writer at the Milwaukee Repertory and Delaware Theater Company his commissioned works include “Sam Cooke: Forever Mr. Soul, “A Cappella Humana,” “Chasin’ Dem Blues: Untold Story of Paramount Records” “Fire On The Bayou,” and “Soultime: At The Apollo.”

Recent directorial and choreographic assignments were represented in the national television commercial spots for GM Pontiac’s “It’s in the Blood,” for Black History Month, and Prilosec’s “The Purple Pill,” as well as, a number of industrial corporate films, including MetLife. He co-authored, directed and choreographed the late great Harold Nicholas of Hollywood’s most legendary dance team, the Nicholas Brothers, in the new musical “If These Shoes Could Talk.” As an actor, other television guest starring and/or recurring appearances include, “The District,” “The Hughley’s,” “State of Grace,” and “Charmed.”

Film credits include, Sidney Lumet’s “Night Falls On Manhattan,” opposite Andy Garcia, “Trial By Jury,” opposite William Hurt, and “Evidence of Humanity,” opposite Peter Falk. Stage credits include the hit Broadway shows, The Lion King (LA), the role of Mufasa, “Black and Blue,” “Five Guys Named Moe,” and David Merrick’s “Oh, Kay,” which garnered him the Astaire and Theater World Award for Best Performance on Broadway.


Geri Allen

Professor Allen is currently Director of the Jazz Studies Department at the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a master’s degree in ethnomusicology.

Geri Allen, pianist/composer, bandleader, educator and Guggenheim Fellow, is the first recipient of the Soul Train, Lady of Soul Award for Jazz. In 2011 Geri Allen, was nominated for an NAACP Award for her Timeline, Tap Quartet Project. Allen is the first woman, and youngest person to receive the Danish Jazz Par Prize. She is a cutting edge performing artist, and continues to concertize internationally.

She is a product of the Detroit Public School System, Howard University and the University of Pittsburgh. Allen moved to NYC in 1982 after she completed her advanced degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Pittsburgh, and for the past thirty years has recorded, performed and collaborated with some of the most important artists of our time including Ornette Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, George Shirley, Dewey Redman, Jimmy Cobb, Sandra Turner-Barnes, Charles Lloyd, Marcus Belgrave, Betty Carter, Jason Moran, Lizz Wright, Marian McPartland, Roy Brooks, Vijay Iyer, Charlie Haden and Paul Motion, Laurie Anderson, Terri Lynn Carrington and Esperanza Spalding, Hal Wilner, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Dianne Reeves, Joe Lovano, Dr. Billy Taylor, Carrie Mae Weems, Angelique Kidjo, Mary Wilson and the Supremes, S. Epatha Merkerson, Farah Jasmin Griffin, Howard University’s Afro-Blue and many others.

Allen has enjoyed a very successful thirty-year performing career as a NYC jazz musician. She has now returned to Pittsburgh to continue her legacy as a cutting edge pianist/composer, recording/concertizing artist. Allen is just as passionate about her work with her undergrad and graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh, and she firmly believes that “meaningful access to music is one of the keys to success in any field, and music informs our sensitivity to others”. She is a fierce advocate for all children of all ages to have direct hands on access to music, and the creative and empowering process jazz inspires.


Chester Whitmore

A unique Dancer, composer, comedian, actor, choreographer, stuntman, and bandleader who combines his talents to create surprising performances. He has been teaching at the Alvin Ailey dance school and lecturing at the renowned Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., among others. Chester Whitmore has his own well-reputed dance company, Black Ballet Jazz specializing in Afro-American vernacular dance. Mr Whitmore is an outstanding teacher & performer, whose knowledge of tap and vernacular jazz is endless. He is also a Master of  Karate.


Deborah Mitchell

Celebrates 18 years as Founder and Artistic Director of New Jersey Tap Dance Ensemble. This St. Louis, MO native is known throughout the New York area as a distinguished tap professional. She is the protégé of Leslie “Bubba” Gaines of the Copasetics and student of many tap masters including Broadway Choreographer Henry LeTang. Her many credits include The Cotton Club Motion Picture, Broadway and Paris Productions of Black and Blue, PBS Great Performances, 5 international tours with the legendary Cab Calloway, and a partnership with Philadelphia native Germaine Goodson as The Rhythm Queens.


David Gilmore

David Gilmore’s recent performance credits include appearances in the American Festival of the Feet at Duke University and Tap Extravaganza in New York. A native of Charleston, S.C., he grew up immersed in the melodious soulful sounds of the South, finding his musical outlet in his hometown high school marching band and a jazz quintet. Since arriving in New York City in 1957, he has enjoyed opportunities to perform with the best of the best, including the legendary jazz innovator Miles Davis and Tony Award recipients Honi Coles, Gregory Hines and Savion Glover, as well as touring the world.


Tina Pratt

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.”


Germaine Ingram

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.


Harold Cromer

“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.


Arthur Duncan

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.