Ernest “Brownie” Brown, a legendary tap dancer who was part of the Cook and Brown duo and the traveling Copasetics dance troupe, has died in suburban Chicago. He was 93.
Brown died Friday at a nursing home in Burbank, Ill., according to Scott Stearns, who is completing a documentary on the tap dancer.
As one half of the comedy act Cook and Brown, Brown shuttled across the country in trains and automobiles to perform alongside Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Lena Horne on the vaudeville circuit.
Above Ernest Brown, right, is with his partner Charles Cook. Cook died in 1991
Known for slapstick comedy and high-energy dancing and acrobatic numbers, Brown was the diminutive mischief-maker to Charles “Cookie” Cook’s lanky straight man from London’s Palladium to New York’s Apollo Theater. Last year, the duo was inducted into the American Tap Dance Foundation’s tap dance hall of fame.
In 1949, Brown and 20 of the country’s best tap dancers formed the Copasetics, created to keep alive the tap dancing art form.
Stearns, whose documentary will chronicle Brown’s later work with a younger tap dancing partner, said he was shocked by the vitality shown by the dancer known for his trademark cane dance. “He was such a buoyant, irrepressible spirit. He just lit up whatever space he was in,” Stearns said.
Standing 4 feet 9 inches, Brown learned at an early age how to stand out in a crowd. Born April 25, 1916, in Chicago, he showed a flair for dancing at an early age, performing on street corners. After winning a talent show, Brown was recruited into the vaudeville circuit and at 12 began touring the country, Stearns said.The young performer was educated on the road by tutors and kept away from the sometimes bawdy atmosphere of vaudeville life, Stearns said.
In the early 1930s, Brown teamed with Cook, combining comedy with highly stylized dance routines and acrobatics that seemed more akin to Olympic gymnastics.
The pair headlined clubs all over the world: Radio City Music Hall, the Latin Casino in Paris and, perhaps the world’s most famous jazz venue, the Cotton Club. While many acts suffered indignities of performing on vaudeville’s “chitlin circuit,” Brown never complained, happy to live his dream of performing before crowds. The duo continued to perform into the 1970s. Cook died in August 1991.
Brown helped found the Copasetics after the death of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. He and other group members performed across the country, hoping to keep tap’s legacy alive.
Though he lived many years in New York City, Brown settled back in Chicago in the 1990s, where he continued to perform. In recent years, he worked with tap dancer Reggio McLaughlin. The pair taught at tap exhibitions around the country, including a 2005 stop at the L.A. Tap Festival at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Culver City.
Brown is survived by a daughter, Barbara Junkins; a sister, Marie Arrington; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
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Many arriving inaugural tourists dived right into Washington rituals. At Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street NW — which was upgraded from a local to a national icon this month when Obama dropped in for a chili half-smoke and sweet tea — crowds got so big that the staff started turning them away at 10:25 a.m. Many were directed to another D.C. favorite: the Florida Avenue Grill. Click the above photo for some history and interviews on Ben’s.
Below is a Washington Post article describing the Saturday arrivals into our Nation’s Capitol for the big historical event
Visitors Pour Into D.C., Loaded With Luggage But Lightened by Hope
By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 18, 2009
They were rolling north, at the end of a four-hour drive from Durham, N.C., almost there. The rest of the car was focused on the directions to a hotel downtown.
Then the Washington Monument appeared in the distance.
Anjanée Bell pointed it out, but the others were distracted. So she savored her thrill in silence.
“That was the moment to say, you know, ‘We’re really here,’ ” said Bell, 31, the artistic director for a dance company. She had visited Washington before, but Bell said she could feel something different in the capital at that moment yesterday — even if, technically, she was still in Virginia.
Inauguration fever broke out across the Washington region yesterday as thousands of visitors began filtering into spare bedrooms, rundown motels and four-star lobbies. They came with Obama action figures, with snoozing babies, with homemade signs and with a more noble view of the capital than most of its full-time residents can sustain.
And many came with memories that made this occasion — the swearing-in of the first African American president — seem wonderful and a little unreal.
“I lived through segregation,” said Marion Garrison, 87, of Bakersfield, Calif. She and five friends were settling in at a Comfort Inn along New York Avenue NE. “I waited for this. It finally came.”
Yesterday was expected to be one of the busiest arrival days for inaugural guests: All but 400 or so of the District’s 29,000 hotel rooms were booked.
But the rush didn’t seem to strain the seams of a city used to conventions and tourists. Highways flowed smoothly. Airports were busy — Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport reported 28,000 passengers, up from 20,000 on a normal day — but didn’t feel Thanksgiving-crowded.
“I worked so hard on the campaign that I just wanted to see the fruits of my labor. I’m excited. I’m elated,” said LaRue Henderson, 73, who had flown in from Atlanta with her daughter and a friend.
They were waiting at Reagan National Airport for a ride to a relative’s home in Falls Church, where they will stay for the long weekend. The group brought along Obama T-shirts and caps, although they needn’t have worried. Every business in the region with a roof and a cash register seemed to be selling inauguration souvenirs yesterday.
For some airline passengers, the celebration of Obama’s swearing-in began even before they touched down. Len Solak, 59, of Albuquerque arrived at BWI wearing a homemade sign around his neck. “We The People get our country back in THREE days! (Loyal opposition is welcome, but cynics can go home!),” it said.
“It was the most photographed sign on the plane,” said Solak, who bought his ticket to Washington in September despite his wife’s fears that he would jinx the election. “Of course, it was also the only sign on the plane.”
Many arriving tourists dived right into Washington rituals. At Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street NW — which was upgraded from a local to a national icon this month when Obama dropped in for a chili half-smoke and sweet tea — crowds got so big that the staff started turning them away at 10:25 a.m. Many were directed to another D.C. favorite: the Florida Avenue Grill.
Some visitors were inventing their own rituals. The Hauldren family, from the Chicago suburb of Northfield, Ill., brought along a small plastic action figure of Obama, which they planned to photograph at major Washington landmarks.
Such as . . . the Court House Metro station.
“We took a picture of him on the plane, and we took a picture of him here,” said Julia Hauldren, 43, a stay-at-home mother who was at the station yesterday morning with her husband and four children. She said the idea was inspired by Flat Stanley, a children’s toy that is supposed to be photographed in strange and exotic locales. “We thought we’d do sort of [a] Flat Stanley, but with Tiny Obama.”
On a Greyhound bus from Pittsburgh, Gloria Moore was talking about living in segregated Selma, Ala. She was taking her 13-year-old granddaughter to see a black man become president and thinking about those who didn’t live to see it.
“I wish my grandmother who never learned to read and worked in the cotton fields of North Carolina could see this,” Moore said. She thought of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., too. She added: “I believe God orchestrated this. It is time for a change.”
And as they were arriving, Washington was getting ready. Thousands of National Guard soldiers filed into the D.C. Armory, carrying green duffle bags and wearing fleece jackets under their camouflage uniforms for warmth. As many as 10,000 Guard members from 25 states and territories will be involved in Tuesday’s festivities, the largest deployment of citizen-soldiers for any inauguration.
Other preparations ranged from the elaborate to the mundane. In the lobby of the Capitol Hilton downtown, Brooks Brothers had set up a satellite office for pre-gala fashion emergencies, selling formal coats and giving bowtie lessons. At Frager’s Hardware on Capitol Hill, people began streaming through the doors at 7:15 a.m. to buy hand warmers (still some left) and toe warmers (all out), plus space heaters and weather stripping for houses full of guests.
And keys. Lots of keys. At midday, 15 people were snaked down a narrow aisle of the store waiting to have copies of keys made for their inaugural guests.
“I noticed the lines back there, but it didn’t dawn on me why it was,” said general manager Nick Kaplanis. “It has been extra heavy back there all [day] long.”
In the lobby of the Mayflower hotel downtown, florist Jerome Williams, 60, was touching up his displays, wearing a plaid shirt in a lobby full of suits. Among other arrangements, he had made eight special ones with red roses, white orchids and blue hybrid delphiniums.
Now Williams was checking the flowers again, wanting them to be perfect. He plucked out a rose that was turning slightly more crimson than the rest of the bouquet.
Williams, who lives in Charles County, said he sensed a special enthusiasm among the hotel’s employees, most of whom voted for Obama. Williams said he thought the man himself might walk down this hallway, past these flowers.
“I just want to show my best” in case Obama passes, he said. “Wanted to show the things in my repertoire.”
Even for the workers who didn’t get to see the visitors arriving, the first day of the inaugural weekend brought a special electricity. Renee Sullivan-Norris, 47, of Prince George’s County spent the day in a closed-in office behind the front desk at the Marriott Wardman Park, manning the hotel switchboard.
Throughout the day, she talked to tourists who wanted directions from the airport or updates on their seats for Inauguration Day events.
In five of those conversations, she said, people had spontaneously told her, “Congratulations!”
Why would that be?
“Because I live in D.C., and I guess they figure we need some help about now,” she said. “I say, ‘Thank you, and congratulations to you, too.’ “
Posted 4 years, 4 months ago at 1:52 pm. Add a comment
BY: Sam Curtis
Unsung Diva Phyllis Hyman
I recently watched a program on TVONE called Unsung. This particular episode featured the troubled life of Phyllis Hyman. This well done Bio has caused me to reminicse about my first Phyllis Hyman experience. I was in New York on business and had completed my business the evening before. Since my travel day would be a Friday, and the flight would not have permitted me to spend any considerable time in the office, I decided to spend the weekend in the big apple. Part of my morning relaxation on this particular day included watching Good Morning America (“GMA”). These were the pre remote control days so the channel remained the same. Airing immediately after GMA was a show that gave you a summary of the weekend happenings. I had already planned to go to a place called the Cookery to see Alberta Hunter and was on my way to the shower when my eyes glimpse the presence of Gregory Hines, Judith Jameson and a tall slim beautiful sister. I had never seen any of these folks before. The slender sister’s name was Phyllis Hyman, and she along with Hines and Jameson was promoting the opening of a Broadway show they were appearing in called Sophisticated Ladies. Phyllis broke out in the Ellington song “I Got It Bad and That ain’t Good”. I was mesmerized by her voice. All I knew is that I wanted to hear it again, so I definitely would be making a trip back to New York to see this show. A month later I returned, got tickets for the show and I was blown away. I could not get enough of Phyllis Hyman. I went to the mall to buy any and all recordings by this woman. I still have my LPs.
Some ten years later I got the chance to meet this woman in Washington D C’s Blues Alley. Arriving early, I patiently waited at the bar for her first show to start. Thanks to a friend I had VIP priviledges. Ms. Hyman came out to the bar were I was sitting. Although she was guarded in her approach, she acknowledge my presence and we exchange some small talk. Later on, we had a nice conversation after she found out I shared the hometown of her father. At the time I was not aware of this fact. Her eyes lit up with excitement. The conversation was delightful, and the show was the icing on the cake for a memorable evening at Blues Alley. I was still Hymanized.
A few years later, I had a young 19 year old working in my office for the summer who was a Phyllis Hyman fanatic. On this particular evening she was scheduled to see Phyllis Hyman perform. I shared with her my memorable evening at Blues Alley. She was so excited. The next day all she could talk about was Phyllis Hyman. She too could not get enough of Ms. Hyman. Not only did she own every recording of Ms. Hyman, but she knew all the lyrics.
On the night of June 30, 1995, I received an emergency voice page from my young impressionable employee asking frantically that I call her right away. Before I could ask, she dropped the terrible news on me. Phyllis Hyman had committed suicide. I spent most of the night on the phone consoling her, for she had been severely fractured by Phyllis’ intentional death.
I could not satisfactorily explain why the ever so talented Phyllis Hyman had taken her own life. One of the reasons is because I really did not know until the recent TVONE Bio.
Apparently, Phyllis Hyman suffered from bi-polar disorder. Also known as manic depression, bi-polar disorder is a biological disorder which impacts the functioning of the brain’s pleasure center. A chemical imbalance causes the brain to experience unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. The mood swings are more severe than the normal ups and downs of everyday life. While in a manic or upbeat mood, the illness can bring extreme pleasure,resulting in excessive behavior. However on the down swing, the illness which is sadly misunderstood by the general public can cause unendurable suffering, thus prompting suicide.
Bi-opolar disorder can be treated with mood stabilizing medication and psycotherapy. Although they have several different types of mood stabilizers, lithium was the first drug approved by the food and drug adminstration for treatment of the illness.
Phyllis had been diagnosed with the illness and was being treated with lithium. Like so many other bipolar sufferers, the medication left her in a zombie state of mind. This state of mind interferred with her creativity as a mesmerizing song stylist. This was something that Phyllis Hyman or any other creative mind found intolerable. Eventually she self medicated on alcohol and cocaine. Her inabilty to submit to the proper treatment for creative reasons coupled with the everyday demands of the entertainment business led to her June 30, 1995 demise.
Now some thirteen years after her untimely death, many who knew and loved her including my 19 year old employee are left wondering what could we have done to prevent the tragedy. We can’t bring Phyllis back. Although many have tried, we can’t bring back the mezmerising impact of a Phyllis Hyman song. We can’t recapture the long lost Hymanizing rapture. We can however, end our ignorance about mental illness and learn more about bipolar disorder. By treating mental illness as an illness and not a stigma we will be in a position to know what to look and listen for when people suffering from the illness reaches out to us for help. Embracing mental illness as an illness and not stigma will also free the suffers to reach out for help. We all are subject to the influence of mental illness in some form.
Recently, a young teen diagnosed with bi-polar disorder reached out to an Internet audience for help. Instead of receiving a helping hand, he was met with a dare. Police found Abraham Biggs Jr. dead in his father’s bed, 12 hours after he first declared on the Web site for bodybuilders that he planned to take his own life. He took a fatal drug overdose in front of the Internet audience. Although some viewers contacted the Web site to notify police, authorities did not reach his house in time.
Radio personality Tom Joyner had a better result, when a caller by the name of Steve called and reach out to the morning talk show for help. At first they were dismissive asking the young man to stop joking and directing him to talk to his preacher. Joyner and his radio crew eventually realized that they were dealing with a serious problem when Steve informed them that he did not think he would make it through the morning. A discombobulated Joyner was able to contact life coach Iyanla Vanzant who assisted the young man on the air by asking questions, listening to his problems and permitting him to resolve his difficulty by talking it out.
It is often said that no one wants to listen to your problems. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to listen. For Phyllis’ sake as well as many others who have ended their lives as a result of mental illness, let’s take the stigma out of mental illness and treat it for exactly what it is, an illness. Let’s put an end to our ignorance so we can see and hear the warning signs and save a life. Stop the rain. Stop the pain.
Posted 4 years, 5 months ago at 10:49 am. Add a comment