Bill “Bojangles” Robinson won acclaim throughout the world as a tap dancer and a stage and film actor. He was born in Richmond, Virginia, on May 25, 1878.
He achieved great success and fame on the Black theater circuit. However, Robinson did not dance for white audiences until he was 50 years old, when he was featured in “Blackbirds of 1928,” an African-American revue for white audiences. Beginning in 1930, Robinson appeared in 14 motion pictures, most frequently as a butler opposite Shirley Temple in such films as “The Little Colonel” (1935) and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1938). Robinson also performed on the stage in “The Hot Mikado” (1939) and “All in Fun” (1940).
Despite earning more than $2 million during his lifetime, Robinson died penniless on Nov. 25, 1949. In 1973, a statue of Robinson was unveiled in Richmond and in 1989 a congressional resolution declared National Tap Dance Day to be May 25, Robinson’s birthday. Robinson was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Dance Hall of Fame in 1987. His biography, Mr. Bojangles: the Biography of Bill Robinson, was published in 1988.
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(Photo: Associated Press)