Arthur Duncan, who stored faucet dancing seen and related throughout the nation on tv when most had relegated it to the previous and who additionally broke floor as a Black entertainer, has died at 97.
Duncan was greatest identified for his 18-year run on “The Lawrence Welk Show” as the one Black solid member, and is broadly considered a trailblazer for a mainstream tv selection present. His diverse profession included appearances on different tv exhibits, in movie and in prime theater venues around the globe.
Duncan died Jan. 4 at a care heart close to his residence in Moreno Valley. It took a number of days for phrase of his demise — from problems associated to a stroke and pneumonia — to get out.
It wasn’t simply Duncan’s presence on the Welk present from 1964 to 1982 that mattered, however what he did: virtuoso faucet dancing at a time when the artwork type had grow to be nearly invisible. Faucet greats had been nonetheless round, however jobs had way back dried up.
Duncan honed his abilities as massive bands — which frequently employed tappers — made approach for rock bands, and jazz gamers — who typically made their rhythmic innovations alongside hoofers — moved to smaller venues and extra experimental musical kinds for which faucet dancers needn’t apply. Faucet was not the dance of the streets, live performance halls or Broadway.
“During the 1960s, there were only two shows on television where you could see tap dancing every week: Friday on ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’ for Talent Round-Up Day, and Sundays with Arthur Duncan with a featured dance on ‘The Lawrence Welk Show,’ ” mentioned dance historian Rusty Frank, creator of “Tap! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars And Their Stories 1900-1955.” “These were the days before digital recorders, streaming TV and YouTube, so if you wanted to see tap dancing, you had to sit in front of that television at the specific airing time.”
Creator and dance critic Brian Seibert wrote that “when Welk introduced Duncan as ‘the young man who is keeping tap dancing alive,’ the epithet was based in fact.”
Having to repeatedly develop new routines, Duncan “generally followed a standard recipe of solid rhythm and big finishes, yet the variety of steps was impressive,” Seibert wrote in “What the Eye Hears,” broadly considered essentially the most authoritative historical past of faucet.
In a single quantity, Duncan borrowed the concept of dancing atop a piano, one thing he’d seen carried out by the acrobatic Nicholas Brothers and rhythm pioneer John Bubbles. Duncan’s daring edge-to-edge slides clearly made the pianist nervous.
Earlier than the Welk present, Duncan had a semi-regular gig on the comparatively short-lived “The Betty White Show” in 1954. White — who turned a lifelong pal and later starred in “The Golden Girls” — pointedly refused calls for from Southern associates to have Duncan faraway from her present.
“There were audience members who were not thrilled to have a Black person on the show,” which additionally toured across the nation, mentioned Ralna English, a dancer and longtime main singer for the Welk troupe. “I know that. I heard that. Some of these older people were so prejudiced.”
Duncan elected to miss racial slights.
“He had a lot of pride,” English mentioned. “He always dressed to the nines. Never had a bad word to say about anybody. He stood tall. Always a gentleman.”
Dancer, trainer and entertainer Skip Cunningham used to admire Duncan from afar on the weekly broadcasts.
“He was safe for them and safe for us,” mentioned Cunningham, who is also Black and later turned Duncan’s pal. “They couldn’t have picked a better person like that. It wasn’t difficult for him to do.”
Duncan was born on Sept. 25, 1925, in Pasadena, the sixth of 13 kids to Corabel LaMar and James Alfred Ernest Duncan, who labored as a service provider seaman earlier than settling in Southern California, in line with members of the family and Duncan himself throughout an interview in August.
James Duncan later labored for an area oil firm, Duncan recalled, and the household turned a part of a tightknit Black neighborhood within the Pasadena space that valued arduous work, thrift and training.
“Our parents were very concerned about education and well-being,” Duncan mentioned.
Whereas his siblings pursued different careers — the army, banking, training, firefighting — younger Arthur discovered the humanities irresistible, catching the bug when a few grade college buddies recruited him to hitch their would-be dance crew.
Quickly he was finding out formally, getting a reduction as a result of his father volunteered to assist out on the dance studio. He earned cash promoting newspapers at a road nook — he’d get further change by doing a couple of steps.
He’d use the newspaper gig to get into superb eating places, the place the patrons included performers from the Pasadena Playhouse. Generally they’d take an curiosity within the outgoing, assertive youth who, by the way in which, was accessible to bounce and sing. A girl who ran an area nightclub gave him an opportunity.
“I’d come in and do my bit and split. Go home and count the two dollars I had in my pocket,” he recalled.
“You wouldn’t call it dancing,” he mentioned of his early efforts. “I was aggressive and curious and got in the way. So they had to help me to get rid of me. So everything worked out fine, but nothing happened overnight.”
As a youth, Duncan additionally delivered prescriptions and took some pharmacy courses at Pasadena Metropolis School, however his coronary heart wasn’t in it. He additionally served within the Military — the place he spent a lot of his time performing for troops — receiving his discharge in 1946.
All of the whereas, he hustled dance gigs.
His early supporters included famed choreographer and director Nick Fort, who tried to maintain him working, and Henry Mancini, who created musical preparations for his routines freed from cost.
Duncan all the time went the place the work was: “I went to Australia on a 10-day job. I ended up coming home four years later. That’s how it works.”
After the Welk present ended, his roles included starring within the Broadway touring firm of “My One and Only” with Tommy Tune, mentioned actor Joe Hart, who additionally had a featured half in that solid.
On movie, Duncan kicked off the well-known problem scene within the Gregory Hines film “Tap” (1989), through which the outdated greats confirmed their stuff.
Duncan’s TV visitor spots included dancing with Dick Van Dyke within the 1992 TV film “Diagnosis of Murder.”
Alongside the way in which, Duncan finally turned an vital bridge to generations of tappers, together with by way of grasp courses, after it had appeared as if critical faucet would possibly stop to exist, mentioned revered Chicago-based tapper and trainer Reggio “The Hoofer” McLaughlin.
Duncan disliked speaking about how he overcame racism, his private life and his age. He most popular to marvel at his success, credit score all who helped him and emphasize tenacity and arduous work. And he all the time targeted on the following gig.
He married twice and had no kids. His first marriage, to Donna Pena, led to divorce in 1973. In 2019, he married his longtime pal and companion Carole Carbone. His survivors embody his spouse, stepson Sean Carbone and siblings Michael Duncan, Mabel Duncan and Eleanor Starr.