Fayard Antonio Nicholas (October 20, 1914 – January 24, 2006) was an American choreographer, dancer, and actor. He and his younger brother Harold Nicholas made up the tap dancing duo of the Nicholas Brothers, who starred in the MGM musicals An All-Colored Vaudeville Show (1935), Stormy Weather (1943), The Pirate ( 1948) and Hard Four (2007). The Nicholas brothers also starred in the musicals of 20th Century-Fox Down Argentine Way (1940), Sun Valley Serenade (1941), and Orchestra Wives (1942).
Nicholas was born in Alabama, but grew up preeminent in Philadelphia. He learned to dance while watching vaudeville shows with his brother while their musician parents played in the orchestra. His father, Ulysses D. Nicholas, was a drummer and his mother, Viola Harden Nicholas, was a pianist.
In 1932, when he was 18 and his brother was only 11, they became the featured act at Cotton Club in New York City. The brothers earned fame with a unique style of rhythm tap that blended “masterful jazz steps with daredevil athletic moves and an elegance of motion worthy of ballet”. They appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway and in London they worked with jazz choreographer Buddy Bradley. The performances led them to a career in film. Nicholas appeared in over 60 films, including the 1943 musical Stormy Weather with their signature staircase dance.
His career was interrupted from 1943 to 1944 when he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Nicholas achieved the rank of Technician fifth grade while in WWII.
After his dance career ended, Nicholas and his wife, Katherine Hopkins Nicholas, embarked on a lecture tour discussing dance. In 2003, Nicholas served as “Festival Legend” at the third “Soul to Sole Tap Festival” in Austin, Texas.
Nicholas was inducted into the National Museum of Dance C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame in 2001.
Nicholas was married three times. He friends remain with his first wife, Geraldine Pate, after their divorce. His second wife was Barbara January. He married dancer Katherine Hopkins in 2000. He was a member of the Baháʼí Faith. Nicholas died of pneumonia following a stroke in 2006 at age 91. His wife Katherine died in 2012.
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Continued to tap dance and spoke frequently at dance festivals around the world until suffering a stroke in November 2005.
The Nicholas Brothers were inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame (2002) (inaugural class).
He and Harold Nicholas were awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7083 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on January 2, 1994.
Dancing for nine U.S. Presidents through the course of their careers, the brothers were awarded Kennedy Center Honors (1991).
Won Broadway’s 1989 Tony Award for Best Choreography for the musical review “Black and Blue”, along with collaborators Cholly Atkins, Henry LeTang and Frankie Manning.
Compliments followed them wherever they went. Dancer extraordinaire Fred Astaire once called The Nicholas Brothers’ “Jumpin’ Jive” dance sequence in the film Stormy Weather (1943) the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen. Famed choreographer George Balanchine called their acrobatic movement ballet, despite their lack of formal training. Tapper Gregory Hines once said that if a film were ever made about the Nicholas Brothers, the dance numbers would have to be computer-generated because nobody could duplicate them. Ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov once called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life.
Fayard Nicholas was one-half of The Nicholas Brothers, a famous African-American tap dancing team who appeared in several movies and became one of the famous and most beloved dance team of all time. Both brothers appeared in films such as An All-Colored Vaudeville Show (1935), The Pirate (1948) and The Five Heartbeats (1991).