When Bill “Bojangles” Robinson made his Broadway debut in Blackbirds of 1928, he was already fifty years old. As an orphaned youngster in Richmond, Virginia, Robinson sold newspapers and shined shoes for pennies until he learned a few dance styles and began to earn money performing on street corners and in saloons.
Around 1890 he joined a touring theater group and ended up in New York City, where critics praised his tap dancing skills in a string of Broadway shows. He was famous for his dance on a staircase and for his ability to run backward. Although he was middle-aged when his career started to take off, Robinson remained in top physical condition. When he reached his sixty-first birthday, he was starring in the show Hot Mikado. To celebrate, he danced down Broadway from above Columbus Circle to his theater on 44th street. It was in Hollywood that Robinson found his greatest fame. He is especially known for the The
Little Colonel in 1935. When he died of a heart condition in 1949, six thousand people filed past his coffin as it lay in a Harlem Armory. After his funeral in the Abyssinian Baptist Church, thousands of people lined the streets as the procession wound down Broadway. It stopped on 47th Street while a band played “Give My Regards to Broadway.”
Alex Keaton: La Salle University Graduate. Aspiring Filmmaker from Philadelphia