To all dancers, dance enthusiasts and tap dancers, please join us in celebrating the Birthday of Willie Bryant today 08/30/1908. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and grew up in Chicago
Willie is best known as Leonard Reed’s partner in creating the Shim Sham Shimmy. Willie started dancing with the Whitman’s Sisters Black Vaudeville in 1926 where he met Reed, teamed up and formed a partnership Reed & Bryant – Brains as well as Feet. He also worked in various vaudeville productions for the next several years, and in 1934 he appeared in the show Chocolate Revue with Bessie Smith.
In about 1928, Reed and Bryant devised a new finale for their eight-minute show, a step of simple heel-and-toe combinations danced to four eight-bar choruses. Reed and Bryant originally called it Goofus, but it became known as the Shim Sham after the Shim Sham Club of Harlem, a club where they regularly appeared. Its simplicity, and suitability as a line dance, especially with the newly popular swing music, meant that it was quickly picked up by club-goers. It has endured ever since.
In 1934, after breaking up with Reed, he put together his first big band, which at times included Teddy Wilson, Cozy Cole, Johnny Russell, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, Eddie Durham, Ram Ramirez, and Taft Jordan. They recorded six times between 1935 and 1938; Bryant sings on 18 of the 26 sides recorded.
Once his ensemble disbanded, Bryant worked in acting and disc jockeying. He recorded R and B in 1945 and led another big band between 1946 and 1948. During September and October 1949, he hosted Uptown Jubilee, a short-lived all-black variety show on CBS-TV .
He moved to California in the later part of the 1950s and died of a heart attack in Los Angeles in 1964.
Willie was a tap dancer, jazz bandleader, vocalist, and disc jockey, and the emcee at the Apollo Theatre during the 1950’s, You can catch him in the feature film Rock ‘N’ Roll Review 1955.
Even nowadays many various tap and non-tap versions are an integral part of big shows. The Shim Sham is well known as the tap dancers anthem.