Period & Style
The National Portrait Gallery's Jewell Robinson discusses a 1935 photograph of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson by George Hurrell.
The "Dancing the Dream" exhibition is on display from October 4, 2013 through July 13, 2014.
Tap-dancing virtuoso Bill "Bojangles" Robinson began earning nickels and dimes for his street- corner routines and beer-garden performances when he was a child, and he was barely in his teens when he joined the chorus of the touring minstrel extravaganza The South Before the War.
But it was on the vaudeville circuit and as a popular nightclub entertainer that he earned his reputation as the "World's Greatest Tap Dancer." Combining superb showmanship with a winning personality, Robinson was a hit with audiences for more than half a century. In addition to appearances on Broadway in the all-black revue Blackbirds of 1928 and The Hot Mikado (1939), Robinson earned lasting fame from his performances in movies such as the Little Colonel (1935), in which his signature "stair dance" tap routine with Shirley Temple provided the film's most memorable moment.
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson / George Hurrell / Gelatin silver print on paper, 1935 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; © George Hurrell, Jr.