Wednesday 16th November 2022 19:00 GMT | 11:00 PDT | 14:00 EST/EDT | 20:00 CEST £6

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In this session we hear from Brian Harker, author of ‘Sportin’ Life: John W. Bubbles, An American Classic’ about his research into the life and legacy of tap dance master John W. Bubbles. 

Brian Harker will introduce Bubbles as a pioneering tap dancer and major figure in the American performing arts and discuss his experience of writing Bubbles’s first biography. In the course of his remarks he will show photos and videos of Bubbles in various performing contexts.

Jane Goldberg, who knew Bubbles towards the end of his life, will join the conversation to share stories of her time spent with this extraordinary, talented and hugely influential man.


Synopsis of ‘Sportin’ Life: John W. Bubbles, An American Classic’ by Brian Harker

John W. Bubbles was the ultimate song-and-dance man. A groundbreaking tap dancer, he provided inspiration to Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, and the Nicholas Brothers. His vaudeville team Buck and Bubbles captivated theater audiences for more than thirty years. Most memorably, in the role of Sportin’ Life he stole the show in the original production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, in the process crafting a devilish alter ego that would follow him through life. Coming of age with the great jazz musicians, he shared countless stages with the likes of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Ella Fitzgerald. Some of his disciples believed his rhythmic ideas had a formative impact on jazz itself. In later years he made a comeback as a TV personality, revving up the talk shows of Steve Allen and Johnny Carson and playing comic foil to Bob Hope, Judy Garland, and Lucille Ball. Finally, after a massive stroke ended his dancing career, he made a second comeback―complete with acclaimed performances from his wheelchair―as a living legend inspiring a new generation of entertainers. His biggest obstacle was the same one blocking the path of every other Black performer of his time: unrelenting, institutionalized racism. Yet Bubbles was an entertainer of the old school, fierce and indestructible. In this compelling and deeply researched biography, his dramatic story is told for the first time.

About Brian Harker

Brian Harker is Professor of Music at Brigham Young University. Two-time winner of the Irving Lowens Award for best article on American music, he is the author of Sportin’ Life: John W. Bubbles, An American Classic; Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings; and Jazz: An American Journey. He lives with his wife in Orem, Utah.

Jane Goldberg is a comedian, writer, tap dancer and key architect of the tap renaissance of the 1970s. She is the founder of the Changing Times Tap Dance Company and the author of the book “Shoot Me While I’m Happy,” with foreword by the late Gregory Hines. Her extensive tap archives now reside at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and are open to the public. Her main act is Rhythm & Schmooze, and she has a Traveling Tap Museum.