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September 11, 2001
Cholly Atkins Discusses His new Autobiography Class Act: The Jazz Life of Cholly Atkins at the Library of Congress September 21
Cholly Atkins appears as part of "I Hear America Singing"
As part of the Library of Congress's multiyear celebration of America's rich musical creativity called " I Hear America Singing," the Music Division of the Library of Congress presents Tony Award-winning choreographer, director and dancer Cholly Atkins, who will discuss and sign his newly published book, Class Act: the Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins (Columbia University Press). The program will take place in the Coolidge Auditorium, located in the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street S.E., at 7 p.m., on Friday, September 21. The event is free, and no tickets are required.
"I Hear America Singing" celebrates the musical heritage of America in a new Web site project that will provide free Internet access to the Library's unsurpassed musical treasures through a database of recordings, reproductions of manuscripts and printed music, moving and still images, and discussions by scholars and performers. "I Hear America Singing" will also include lectures, master classes, symposia and other educational programs that will examine a national musical legacy that embracing the range of American musical expression - from gospel, rhythm and blues and Celtic music, to bluegrass, country, klezmer and rock and roll.
Cholly Atkins's career has spanned an extraordinary era of American dance. He began performing during Prohibition and continued his apprenticeship in vaudeville in nightclubs, and in the army during World War II. With his partner, Honi Coles, Mr. Atkins toured the country, performing with such jazz masters as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and Count Basie. As tap reached a nadir in the fifties, Mr. Atkins created the new specialization of "vocal choreography," teaching rhythm-and-blues singers how to perform their music by adding rhythmical dance steps drawn from 20th century American dance, from the Charleston to rhythm tap. For the burgeoning Motown Record Corporation, he taught such artists as the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Marvin Gaye to command the stage in ways that would enhance their performances and "sell" their songs.
Class Act, which was co-written by Jacqui Malone, tells of Mr. Atkins's boyhood and coming of age, his entry into the dance world of New York City, his performing triumphs and personal tragedies, and the career transformations that won him gold records and a Tony Award for choreographing Black and Blue on Broadway. Chronicling the rise, near demise, and then rediscovery of tap dancing, Class Act is both an engaging biography and a rich cultural history.
Cholly Atkins has been a jazz dance artist, choreographer, and director of stage acts for decades. He has been honored by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as many dance organizations. Jacqui Malone, who began interviewing Mr. Atkins in 1988, was awarded a Ford Foundation grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship to write this book. Author of Steppin' on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance, she is a professor of drama, theater and dance at Queens College.
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