LeRoy Myers was born in North Philadelphia on November 10th, 1919, to Robert and Lucille Myers. He had three older sisters and three younger brothers. His first involvement in the theatrical world was as a singer with the all-black amateur Kiddies’ Hours at the Lincoln Theater in South Philadelphia, which was broadcast weekly on WPEN. He was known as a Morten Downey of the Kiddie Hour after the popular Irish tenor, and on every Mother’s Day, the Jewish tailor who sponsored the program would ask LeRoy to sing Mother Machree.
A typical pastime among children in Philadelphia at the time was tap dancing on street corners and that was where LeRoy learned to dance. At the age fifteen, he formed his first tap dancing act “Pops and LeRoy” with a partner William Rogers. By being in and around theaters, he became acquainted with many musicians, acts, and boxers, among whom included Bill Robinson, Dizzy Gillespie, the Three Peppers, Sugar Ray Robinson and Bob Montgomery.
While “Pops and LeRoy” was a straight tap dancing act, he realized that, with so many great dancers around, presenting a larger variety would give him a better chance of standing out. Thus, he teamed up with a young, ambitious trumpet player by the name of Sinclair Rogers. The format for “Sinclair and LeRoy” consisted of dancing, singing, impersonation, comedy, and ventriloquism, which was typically followed by an encore. Once they hit the stage of the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, they never had to look back as far as being successful.
During WWII LeRoy was drafted into the Army, which permanently broke up the act “Sinclair and LeRoy.” After the war, LeRoy performed as a single act for a while, but he became Chuck of “Chuck and Chuckles” with James ‘Chuckles’ Walker when the original ‘Chuck,’ Chuck Green, became ill. The act was later renamed “Myers and Walker” when the contracts with the former name expired.
The death of the one of the greatest black entertainment icons, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, in 1949 inspired LeRoy’s close friends to form a club, which was named “the Copasetics” after Bill Robinson’s favorite expression, “Everything is Copasetic.” The original membership included Billy Strayhorn, James ‘Chuckles’ Walker, Charles ‘Cookie’ Cook, Luther ‘Slim’ Preston, Henry ‘Phace’ Roberts, Johnny Rocket, Pete Nugent, Honi Coles, Cholly Atkins, Peg Leg Bates, Ernest Brown, Milton Larkin, Francis Goldberg, Frank Goldberg, Emory Evans, Elmer Waters, Roy Branker, Paul Black, Eddie West and Chink Collins. LeRoy was appointed as the first president of the club and was elected to the position the following year. The club membership was limited to twenty-one at a time, but over the years, it included Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Shavers, Timmie Rogers, Bubba Gains, Louie Sims, and Buster Brown among others. Besides the regular members, the club welcomed honorary members such as the Nicholas Brothers, Sammy Davis Jr., Chuck Green, Lionel Hampton, Alan McMillan, and Willie Bryant.
The members of the Copasetics were dedicated to keeping the thought of Bill Robinson alive. The preamble, written by LeRoy Myers and Luther Preston, reads: “The Copasetic is a social, friendly, benevolent club. Its members pledge themselves to do all in their power to promote fellowship and to strengthen the character within their ranks. With these thoughts ever foremost in our minds, it should be our every desire to create only impressions that will establish us in all walks of life as a group of decent, respectable men. Bearing in mind that these achievements can only become a reality by first seeking the aid of God.” The Copasetics were all clean-living people who liked a lot of fun.
Professionally, “Myers and Walker” continued to work. In the meantime, LeRoy was an indirect source of inspiration to Frank Sinatra and was a culprit of the accident that bent Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet. By the end of 1950s, however, the opportunities for tap dancers became scarce. “Myers and Walker” broke up and LeRoy found work as a master of ceremonies at various theaters. When even this became slow, he found work as a bartender, postal worker, floor captain at Club Harlem in Atlantic City, and so on.
In 1966, LeRoy was recruited by Motown, and as the road manager with the original Supremes he witnessed their break-up. In 1967, LeRoy left Motown to manage B.B. King, whom he had known since B.B.’s first theater tour in 1949. LeRoy worked with B.B., primarily as a road manager, until the late 1970s and he played a critical role in B.B.’s rise to fame.
When LeRoy came off the road, he took over the ownership of the nightclub, the Wonder Gardens, in Atlantic City, which he sold in 2001. Meanwhile, he arranged bookings for artists such as Brook Benton, Damita Jo, and George Kirby, but as he took on the responsibility of business manager of the Copasetics, LeRoy and the Copasetics became a major force in the revival of tap dancing in the late 1970s through the 80s.
Among many books that credit his contributions during his lifetime are Music is My Mistress (Duke Ellington), Lush Life – a biography of Billy Strayhorn (Hadju), Jazz Dance (Stearns & Stearns), and Uptown – the story of Harlem’s Apollo Theatre (Schiffman). He was to be honored at 2004 Tap Extravaganza in May.
LeRoy Myers enjoyed a vast range of personal and professional associations during his long career in the entertainment business and he was a dedicated friend to those who knew him. Congressman Charles Rangel wrote, “The Copasetics are an example of what brotherhood is truly about because through all of the years, even though you have had your peaks and your valleys, you have managed to maintain your friendship; and during the times in which we live, that is such a valuable attribute that no one can take it away and no one can buy it.”
He lived in New York City and he remained active as the producer of the tap jam at Showmans in Harlem and as a mentor to younger artists until he passed away on April 26, 2004, at the age of 84. The cause of death was cancer.
He had no children, but is survived by his sister Bobbie Lee, brother Walter, nieces, nephews, grand nieces and grand nephews.
written by Jun Maruta