LEONARD REED was best known as the co-originator with partner Willie Bryant of the Shim Sham Shimmy, a now-classic tap format that began as a flashy finale to their dance act in the late 1920s. Now it's been passed all around the world... it's become the national anthem of tap.
Born in Lightning Creek, Oklahoma, near Nowata, on January 7, 1907, a mix of black, white and Choctaw. He was raised by relatives and various guardians, growing up in Kansas City, where he won Charleston contests and worked summers dancing the Charleston at carnivals. He attended Cornell University but after winning another Charleston contest on a bet, he left school to start his dancing career. Picking up tap skills, he teamed with Bryant in a successful vaudeville act promising "Brains as Well as Feet," an act in which he and Bryant passed for white.
In 1934, Reed became a producer, working in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York with some of the era's best-known black performers. He staged shows at the famed Cotton Club and later managed the Apollo Theater, where he also served as master of ceremonies for 20 years. He also developed his talents as a songwriter, arranger, bandleader and comedian. "Dancing has been my only love," he said in a Fort Worth Star Telegram interview. "But I didn't let dancing stop me from doing other things. I have the ability to be multitalented."
The 1960s found him working for record companies, producing acts, choreographing dance numbers, and helping launch the career of singer Dinah Washington. He also wrote songs and taught dance in his Hollywood dance studio and in master classes coast to coast. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Music Awards in 2000, and two years later received an honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts degree from Oklahoma City University. At that time, he told the Sunday Oklahoman that his long, active life could be credited to "women, golf and show business... but not necessarily in that order."
He also wrote a number of songs that were recorded by various artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Chick Webb, and Lionel Hampton. Several of these songs have been recorded by Mora’s Modern Rhythmists, including his 1935 tune, "A Viper’s Moan," as well as his 1932 hit, "It’s Over Because We’re Through," with Leonard himself singing the vocals.
DEAN MORA'S MODERN SWINGTET is a 7-piece musical group formed in 1998 as the small-group counterpart to Mora's Modern Rhythmists. Originally created to play the Rhythmists' arrangements (for the budget-conscious client), the Swingtet eventually developed its own identity, complete with its own repertoire -- that of the famous small groups of the 1930s/1940s, such as Tommy Dorsey's Clambake Seven, Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five, the Ellingtonians, and the John Kirby Orchestra, among others. This made it an entirely new band, separate from the Modern Rhythmists, but still retaining the musicianship of the larger group.
The Swingtet has become a favorite among swing dancers in the Los Angeles area, performing at Southern California-area venues such as:
The Rhythm Club
The Atomic Ballroom
Maxwell's At The Argyle
The Cicada Club
RUSTY FRANK is a Tap Dancer and Lindy Hopper, producer, choreographer, writer, and dance preservationist. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book TAP! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories 1900-1955, the producer and choreographer of the stage revues "Swingin' The Century - The Big Band Show" and "Jazz Tap." Rusty is the producer of the one-hour television special in production, "TAP! Tempo of America" (recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant).