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Bunny Briggs

Performer
( b. Feb 26, 1922 New York, New York, USA - d. Nov 15, 2014 Las Vegas, Nevada, USA ) Male
Also known as: Bernard Briggs [Birthname]
Bunny Briggs was an elegant and versatile tap virtuoso whose career bridged dance eras, from Bill (Bojangles) Robinson's to Savion Glover's. In the world of tap, which especially prizes the passing of traditions from generation to generation, Mr. Briggs was a prodigy early on and a mentor in his later years. He danced on the streets of Harlem as a small boy, and on Broadway, "The Ed Sullivan Show" and at the Newport Jazz Festival as an adult.

Known for the speed of his feet, the breadth of his repertoire and his smooth, unflappable stage demeanor, he was both a showman and a musician. He was a star performer who could hold the audience alone at center stage, as he did in the 1989 Broadway musical revue Black and Blue, and a jazz percussionist with the likes of Count Basie, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington, who once described Mr. Briggs as "the most superleviathonic, rhythmaturgically syncopated tapsthamaticianisamist."

Mr. Briggs was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in Black and Blue, which originated in Paris. A highlight was his tour de force solo to Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood."

He was discovered by the pianist Luckey Roberts and danced with his orchestra on a high-society circuit of parties in the homes of Astors, Vanderbilts and others. His first movie appearance, in 1932, was in the film "Slow Poke," with Stepin Fetchit. In the 1940s he toured with big bands, tapping to swing, and, inspired by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, adapted his style to the more complex sounds of bebop. His versatility kept him employed.

Along with Jimmy Slyde, Honi Coles, George Hillman, Steve Condos and others, Mr. Briggs was a busy performer in the heyday of tap, from the 1930s to the 1950s, when jazz was popular and tap masters were headliners in the swankiest nightclubs and on Broadway.

But in the 1960s, with rock 'n' roll in ascendance and the civil rights movement gaining momentum, tap went into decline, suffering in part from a perception by some that it represented an era of black subservience in entertainment. Still, unlike some of his contemporaries, Mr. Briggs endured through those lean years, partly through his association with Hampton, with whom he performed at the Rainbow Grill in New York and elsewhere, and especially with Ellington; because of their close association, Mr. Briggs became widely known as "Duke's dancer."

Tap began to re-emerge as a popular form in the 1980s with stage shows like The Tap Dance Kid, Black and Blue and, a bit later, Jelly's Last Jam, along with the 1989 movie "Tap," which featured several generations of tappers, including Mr. Briggs, Sammy Davis Jr., Gregory Hines and Mr. Glover, then a teenager. All helped emphasize the legitimacy of tap as an authentic, vernacular American art form and illustrated its torch-passing tradition.

Source: The New York Times obituary



Productions Date of Productions
Black and Blue
[Musical, Revue, Original]
  • Performer: Bunny Briggs [Hoofer]
Jan 26, 1989 - Jan 20, 1991
Are You With It?
[Musical, Comedy, Original]
  • Performer: Bunny Briggs [Cicero]
Nov 10, 1945 - Jun 29, 1946
1989 Tony Award® Best Featured Actor in a Musical
 Black and Blue [nominee]
Performer: Bunny Briggs
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