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Sportin' Life Brian Harker (Professor of Music, Professor of Music, Brigham Young University)

Sportin' Life By Brian Harker (Professor of Music, Professor of Music, Brigham Young University)


Sportin' Life tells for the first time the full, dramatic story of one of America's great song-and-dance men. A groundbreaking tap dancer who provided inspiration to the likes of Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, and the Nicholas Brothers, John W. Bubbles is the epitome of a highly influential but mostly forgotten figure.

Sportin' Life Summary

Sportin' Life: John W. Bubbles, An American Classic by Brian Harker (Professor of Music, Professor of Music, Brigham Young University)

John W. Bubbles was the ultimate song-and-dance man. A groundbreaking tap dancer, he provided inspiration to Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, and the Nicholas Brothers. His vaudeville team Buck and Bubbles captivated theater audiences for more than thirty years. Most memorably, in the role of Sportin' Life he stole the show in the original production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, in the process crafting a devilish alter ego that would follow him through life. Coming of age with the great jazz musicians, he shared countless stages with the likes of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Ella Fitzgerald. Some of his disciples believed his rhythmic ideas had a formative impact on jazz itself. In later years he made a comeback as a TV personality, revving up the talk shows of Steve Allen and Johnny Carson and playing comic foil to Bob Hope, Judy Garland, and Lucille Ball. Finally, after a massive stroke ended his dancing career, he made a second comebackDLcomplete with acclaimed performances from his wheelchairDLas a living legend inspiring a new generation of entertainers. His biggest obstacle was the same one blocking the path of every other Black performer of his time: unrelenting, institutionalized racism. Yet Bubbles was an entertainer of the old school, fierce and indestructible. In this compelling and deeply researched biography, his dramatic story is told for the first time.

Sportin' Life Reviews

Harker limns a sensitive portrait of a complex artist who survived the vicissitudes of racism to work briefly in Hollywood, to appear regularly on television specials, and to travel with the USO to entertain troops in Vietnam. * T. F. DeFrantz, CHOICE *
Brian Harker, in this epic biography, describes Bubbles' dancing so vividly that we can practically see it and feel it. * Wendy Perron, Wendy Perron *
Presenting what we can know is a biographer's work, and Harker has done a first-rate job, shrewdly and thoroughly filling out the life of a complicated man whose career illuminates the possibilities and obstacles faced by a brilliant Black artist during that time. * Brian Seibert, New York Review of Books *
Harker's book is not only vivid history but a poignant rumination on what might have been - what greater art Bubbles might have made, if only the world that applauded him hadn't also hemmed him in. * Sarah L. Kaufman, The Washington Post *
Sportin' Life is a gripping page-turner biography of song-and-dance man John Bubbles. Harker's meticulously researched and inspiring book rightly restores Bubbles' trail-blazing legacy alongside the biggest stars of the past century including Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, Judy Garland and Bob Hope. * Harvey Young, Dean and Professor, Boston University College of Fine Arts *
John W. Bubbles was a great showman who had a tremendous impact on entertainment in 1920s vaudeville. 'The father of rhythm tap' contributed to the form by dropping his heels in heavy syncopation, bringing the weight down from the toes, andputting tap into the jazz bracket. Brian Harker, hisextraordinary biographer, has done more than his homework, casting Bubbles' life in context throughout the 20th century. Changing the way tap was executed was just one of his major contributions. Both Fred Astaire and Honi Coles considered Bubbles 'the greatest tapper ever,' and 'winner and still champ' even when he was paralyzed with a stroke. A must read for anyone interested in how one Black life has mattered, as Harker shows how Bubbles' contribution continues through today. Along the route of this biography, the reader learns much about the history of race relations, and Bubbles' undying ability to always rise to the challenge. * Jane Goldberg, Director, Changing Times Tap Dance Company, Inc *
Musicians, dancers and performers have long known that John W. Bubbles was an American classic. Now, thanks to Brian Harker's vivid and comprehensive biography, he takes his place center stage in tap, jazz and theater history. His rhythmic innovations and virtuosity did for tap what Louis Armstrong did for jazz. Racism marred his career, but never his charisma or his virtuosity. * Margo Jefferson, author, Negroland and On Michael Jackson *

About Brian Harker (Professor of Music, Professor of Music, Brigham Young University)

Brian Harker is Professor of Music at Brigham Young University. He has twice won the Irving Lowens Award for best article on American music. He is the author of Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings and Jazz: An American Journey. He lives with his wife in Orem, Utah.

Table of Contents

Timeline Introduction Part I: Prodigy (1903-1920) Chapter 1: Words to Live By Chapter 2: The Soul of Minstrelsy Chapter 3: Buck and Bubbles Part II: Innovator (1920-1931) Chapter 4: A Find of Finds Chapter 5: Reinvention Chapter 6: Beautiful Days Chapter 7: Dancing in the Dark Chapter 8: Alone Chapter 9: Dreams Fulfilled Part III: Master (1931-1953) Chapter 10: Jazz, Jazz, Jazz Chapter 11: A Miracle of Racy Brilliance Chapter 12: Swing Is King Chapter 13: Black Bizet Chapter 14: Requiem for a Two-Act Part IV: Survivor (1953-1986) Chapter 15: Exile Chapter 16: Turn Back the Universe Chapter 17: Bubbles Bounces Back! Chapter 18: This Unforgettable Passage Chapter 19: A World of Mirth Acknowledgments Notes Works Cited Index

Additional information

Sportin' Life: John W. Bubbles, An American Classic by Brian Harker (Professor of Music, Professor of Music, Brigham Young University)
Oxford University Press Inc
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