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March 26, 2002

Cholly Atkins Discusses His Recent Autobiography Class Act: The Jazz Life of Cholly Atkins at the Library of Congress May 16

Tony Award-winning choreographer, director, and dancer Cholly Atkins will discuss and sign his recent book, Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins (Columbia University Press, 2001), in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress on Thursday, May 16, at 7 p.m. The event is free, and no tickets are required.

Mr. Atkins' appearance is part of the Library's major initiative I Hear America Singing, which celebrates the musical heritage of America in a new Web site project. The site will eventually 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. Lectures, masterclasses, symposia, and other educational programs will examine a national musical legacy that embraces a vast range of American musical expression -- from gospel, rhythm and blues, and Celtic music to bluegrass, country, klezmer, and rock and roll.

Cholly Atkins' career has spanned an extraordinary era of American dance. The recent recipient of an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts in American Dance by the Oklahoma City University School of American Dance and Arts Management, he began performing during Prohibition and continued his apprenticeship in vaudeville, in nightclubs, and in the U. S. 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 its 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 artists such 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.

Co-written by Jacqui Malone, Class Act tells of Mr. Atkins' boyhood and coming of age, his entry into the New York City dance world, 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 rediscovery of tap dancing, Class Act offers 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, the National Endowment for the Arts, and 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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PR 02-041
03/26/02
ISSN 0731-3527

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