Jane Goldberg

Tapper | Historian | Comedian

Gregory on Respect

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Gregory Hines, born Feb. 14, 1946, would have turned 70 this year. This set of emails has as its theme “respect.” His last email, of the dozens of emails we exchanged, had as its subject line, “Respect is so worth fighting for.

Gregory died August 9, 2003. Soon after, in the autumn, I gave a talk in Lexington, Mass. about Gregory. A good friend of mine came up at the end and suggested one reason Gregory was so used to using words like “The Challenge” and “Champ” was because he grew up at the tail end of an era of show business when those words would be commonly known and used only by the hoofers of yesteryear. Some are still trying to preserve that part of the tap tradition.

This friend had recently read a book called “Violence” and a lot of it was about African American men in the prison system, way before it became a prescient issue. RESPECT, she told me, one of the basic elements of living, was always chipping away at the men of color in prison. Everything in the prison system was about respect, which was more important even than one’s physical being. They would die to get RESPECT.

This dis-enfranchised group was dis-respected in society. And, as we know from current events, with the Black Lives Matter movement, it should be no surprise “The Challenge” at its “red hot core” as Hines called it, about being the best, competing. winning, and being respected for that, hence “The Champ”. Having a way to use your talent as in a cutting session on the streets, some of the beginnings of tap dancing as we know it, laid the groundwork for getting respect from one’s peers.

Even though he was paralyzed by a stroke from his waist down, John Bubbles was honored at “By Word of Foot” festival in 1980, with a key to the city; Honi Coles called him, “winner and still champ.” John Bubbles had influenced an entire next generation of dancers (such as Honi Coles) coming up in the 1930s.

His protege, Chuck Green, told me Bubbles put tap in the jazz bracket by dropping his heels, adding a lot of syncopation to the art. Bubbles was KING, not just winner and still champ. I met a man this past summer who is writing a book on Bubbles. Finally! He has access to all Bubbles archives; Bubbles apparently kept everything. This will be great information and stories for all of us as so little is really know about John “Bubbles” Sublet.

So, here are some emails, that, with the great help of Valerie Baloga, are being published on the Hines email project website. Feel free to pass on to people you know will be interested: your own mailing lists! Together, in honor of his 70th birthday we selected a few having to do with “respect.”

This one, after I’d gotten an article published in Dance Magazine, which he called “D.R.” (a.k.a. Dance Rag.) That magazine really pissed Hines off. It rarely, if at all, had any articles on tap dancing (it does have more now, along with Dance Teacher) and it never had African Americans on its covers, according to Hines. He was obsessed with Dance Magazine and used every public venue at his disposal to criticize, to diss the publication.

(Embarrassingly, besides being a friend and mentor Hines also was a kind of “father figure”. I hope I was kidding him when I beseeched, but alas, I don’t think I was.)

Hines’ last email to me (not last to be published in his tapilosophy):

Note: Particular names have been omitted to protect the non-innocent. The emails are not and never have been written as “kiss and tell”…

Thanks to Valerie Baloga for help with transcription.

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