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Luther (Bill "Bojangles") Robinson 18781949
Nat Karson circa 19081954
Hassard Short 18771956
 
At the height of his fame, Luther (Bill) Robinson, affectionately known as "Bojangles," was considered the greatest tap dancer in the world. With his smooth, natural dancing style and ebullient vitality, Robinson worked his way up to the national vaudeville circuit, the Broadway stage, radio, and major studio films, breaching r acial barriers all along the way. In 1939, he opened in The Hot Mikado, a swing version of the operetta. The "agile Bill Robinson turns on the heat" the New York Herald Tribune proclaimed. Al Hirschfeld provided the accompanying illustration. Now famed for his elegantly abbreviated figures, Hirschfeld created here an elaborate drawing resonate of musical rhythm, dance, and film. Although he loved to exaggerate line, the malicious distortion of faces and figures was not his purpose. As Arthur Miller pointed out, "the sheer tactical vibrance of the lines . . . make you feel . . . that he has found a wit in your miserable features that may yet lend you a style and dash you were never aware of in yourself."

Al Hirschfeld (born 1903)
Ink on illustration board, 1939
Original illustration for the New York Herald Tribune, March 19, 1939
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Al Hirschfeld
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