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Sunday, January 27, 2008

R.I.P. Tap Master LaVaughn Robinson

Tap Master LaVaughn Robinson
February 9,1927 - January 22, 2008

It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of a
Master of Tap Dance, LaVaughn Robinson. Details regarding
services are below.
* The public viewing and funeral services will be held on
January 29, 2008.
* The viewing will be held from 9:00 to 10:00 AM.
* The funeral services will be held at 11:00 AM.
* The services will take place at The Church of the
Redeemer - Baptist
Church, 24th & Dickinson Streets, Philadelphia, PA.


LaVaughn Robinson's dance career began on a linoleum floor
in the shed kitchen of the family's South Philadelphia row
home. From the age of seven, he continued to learn steps
from most of the region's talented tap dancers. Teddy Hale
and Bill Bailey are mentors that LaVaughn readily
acknowledges. At age 66, LaVaughn Robinson is a master of
styles, gleaned from a long line of tap dancers before him.

"You could walk down South Street in those days," LaVaughn
recalls, "and meet up with the best dancers in the city. As
a youngster I put my steps to good use performing for
change on the streets of downtown and South Philadelphia."
Either he danced acapella (without instrumental
accompaniment) or he'd find a washboard and tin tub
accompanist to lay down some good rhythms. Whenever Bill
Bailey was in town performing at the Latin Casino (a
nightclub that once graced the corner of Walnut Street
between Thirteenth and Broad Streets), he would bring
LaVaughn and the other kid tap dancers inside and let them
watch his show. "Sometimes, he came outside and watched our
show," LaVaughn now remembers. "We used to sit in his
dressing room, while he talked to us about being 'good'.
His father was a reverend, you know, and Bill thought tap
dancing was very spiritual. He believed you had to
be'right' to dance. He was a big influence on my dancing, "
says Robinson.

From "buskin'" (entertaining by singing or dancing on the
streets for money), LaVaughn earned from $35 to $40 a day.
South Street was a thriving business and entertainment
district in the 1930's and '40's and people enjoyed the
novelty of watching young men exhibit new steps. LaVaughn
and the friends he danced with knew their market. Center
City and South Street was their "turf." "We used to call it
'going to work'," LaVaughn notes. "During New Year's, the
Army/Navy game and holidays Philadelphia tap dancers were
invited up to rooftops for parties. I had my regular route,
says LaVaughn, " which included spots like Palumbo's and
the Two Bit Club.

LaVaughn was featured in his first professional performance
in 1945. Over the years, he has shared the stage with Cab
Calloway, Tommy Dorsey, Maynard Ferguson, Ella Fitzgerald,
Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker. LaVaughn actively
pursued his dance career through 1972. By then, nightclub
venues which were a mainstay of most tap dancers'employment
opportunities had become nearly extinct and highly
electrified music became more popular.

Contemporary dance and folk audiences were the first to
acknowledge LaVaughn's artistry in the late 1970's. As a
dancer, he projects exuberance and an uncanny ability to
convince every audience member that they have had an
intimate conversation with this walking cultural icon. As
general appreciation and interest in tap have revived over
the past twenty years, LaVaughn has kept up a busy schedule
teaching and performing in the United States and abroad.
LaVaughn and dance partner Germaine Ingram appeared in the
PBS tap special, "Gregory Hines'Tap Dance in America." The
talent and legacy LaVaughn shares have been recognized with
awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the
Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Pew Fellowships in
the Arts program.

[Comment: The above biographical notes and photo were taken
from the program for a LaVaughn Robinson tribute evening at
Philadelphia's Painted Bride Art Center on May 1, 1993.]

(Thanks to Sarah Reich for posting this information)
Professor Robinson's longtime dance partner, Germaine
Ingram, offered the following:
"I take comfort in the fact that LaVaughn had a long and
full life, doing what he loved until past age 75 (when he
retired). He shared his artistic gifts with thousands
through riveting performance and inspired teaching. I
rejoice in the fact that a 'street dancer' leaves us with
indelible images of eloquence."

Some online resources:
An Interview between LaVaughn Robinson and Germain Ingram.
An in depth biography posted as part of LaVaughn's 1989 NEA
National Heritage Fellowship award (a Lifetime Honor).
A biography posted as part of the Philadelphia Folklore
A biography from the International Tap Association's
Audio Interview between LaVaughn Robinson and WOR Radio
Host Joey Reynolds.
A brief biography posted as part of LaVaughn's receipt of
the 2004 Hoofer Award.
Purchase your copy of "LaVaughn Robinson Dancing History"
Net Proceeds will be donated to the Family
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