Fayard Nicholas (October 28, 1914, Mobile, Alabama, USA – January 24, 2006, Los Angeles, California, USA) and Harold Nicholas (1921 – 2000), constituted what was, without a doubt, the most talented and spectacular power tap-dancing duo in the history of show business. They grew up in Philadelphia where their parents played in the orchestra at the Standard Theatre, a vaudeville house for blacks. The brothers were soon in vaudeville themselves, billed initially as the Nicholas Kids. By 1932, they had graduated to the renowned Cotton Club in Harlem, where, for the next two years, they delighted the all-white audiences and rubbed shoulders with great black entertainers such as Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway. In 1936, the Nicholas Brothers made their Broadway debut with Bob Hope and Fanny Brice in Ziegfeld Follies and appeared in London in Lew Leslie’s revue, Blackbirds of 1936.
A year later, they were back on Broadway in the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart hit musical, Babes in Arms. Their film career had begun in 1932 with two short films, Black Network and Pie Pie Blackbird (featuring Eubie Blake And His Band), and it continued via Calling All Stars (1936), and the Don Ameche – Betty Grable musical, Down Argentine Way (1940), in which the brothers did a breathtaking dance to the lively number “Down Argentina Way.” The sequence was choreographed by Nick Castle who worked with the duo on most of their subsequent pictures, and gained them a five year contract with 20th Century-Fox. During the rest of the ‘40s, the Nicholas Brothers contributed some electrifying and superbly acrobatic dances to films such as Tin Pan Alley, The Great American Broadcast, Sun Valley Serenade, Orchestra Wives, Stormy Weather, and The Pirate (1948). In 1946, they both starred in the Broadway musical, St. Louis Woman, in which Harold introduced Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s appealing ‘Ridin’ On The Moon’ and (with Ruby Hill) the all-time standard, “Come Rain Or Come Shine.” Of course, as blacks, in films, they were only allowed to be a speciality act and were never considered for leading roles.
This is apparently one of the main reasons why, in the ‘50s, they worked in Europe for several years where audiences and managements were more racially tolerant. When Fayard decided to return to the USA, Harold stayed in France and carved out a solo career for himself there. After seven years, they were reunited in America and played in nightclubs and on television until Fayard contracted arthritis and underwent two hip-replacement operations. Harold continued as a solo performer and was top-billed in the musical Back In The Big Time (1986). Fayard was still active in non-performing areas of the business and won a Tony Award when he co-choreographed 1989’s Broadway musical Black And Blue, with Cholly Atkins, Henry LeTang and Frank Manning. In 1991, the Nicholas Brothers received Kennedy Center Honours for their outstanding work over a period of more than 60 years. A year later, a documentary film, We Sing & We Dance, celebrated their wonderful careers and included tributes from Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, M.C. Hammer, and Clarke Peters. In 1994, members of the cast of Hot Shoe Shuffle, London’s ‘New Tap Musical’, also paid tribute to their ‘inspiration’ – the Nicholas Brothers.