Black In The Day: Stage and Screen Mainstays

MC Hammer

Welcome to Black In The Day, your bi-weekly serving of yesteryear’s magical, inimitable and unforgettable Blackety Blackness courtesy of Alexander Hardy. 

Whether in person, on stage, or on screen, Blackness in motion is a gift to behold. Pop charts, musical trends, ultra tardy mainstream fashion crazes, and inescapable dance fads and catch phrases all reflect the magic so effortlessly harvested from our bottomless well of creative excellence. As such, it is impossible to assemble a definitive list of the bestest of the Blackest onscreen and stage performances, because the number of included Saint Damita Jo Jackson moments would be unfair to lesser “artists,” but one has to start somewhere. And so:

“The Jumpin’ Jive” by Cab Calloway and The Nicholas Brothers
Long before your cousins were turning uninspired hip rocks and universal signs of distress into viral dance crazes<, Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers were breaking boundaries, flipping off tables and flying down staircases in three-piece suits, all without sweating out their majestic conks. Though many millennials were first introduced to Sir Calloway via one of his final onscreen appearances in Saint Damita Jo Jackson’s “Alright” video, Cab’s place in history had been cemented decades prior, way back in pre-Janet Jackson America. The 1930s, to be exact. This legendary high-energy performance of Calloway’s “(Hep! Hep!) The Jumping Jive,” from 1943’s Stormy Weather – the second big budget Hollywood film with an all-Black cast, which also featured Lena Horne and Bill Bojangles Robinson – is but one such showing of his greatness. The ease with which Cab glides hither and yon with Fayard and Harold inspires me as I venture back into dance while also reminding me how out of shape I am. Bonus: This 1992 Nicholas Brothers documentary, We Sing, We Dance.

Voguing by Willi Ninja, Paris Is Burning, 1990
If you didn’t know, voguing was a thriving dance form among young Black and Latino LGBTQ club kids in Harlem long before Madonna slathered mayonnaise on top and used the praise from being laughably labeled a pioneer of voguing to fuel her ascendance to Queen of the Culture Vultures. The style, which gained popularity in the 1980s, was created by drag queens and club performers who used elaborate poses, exaggerated hand gestures, clean lines, and fluid arms to tell stories and emulate the rich women on Fifth Avenue and in fashion magazines. Voguing is as popular today as ever. It has influenced the performances of countless pop stars (for example), ended up in movies and TV commercials, and even took center stage via Vogue Evolution’s weekly slayage on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. Behold Willi Ninja, the late mother of the House of Ninja, discussing his style and the history of vogue in Paris Is Burning. (More: Nicolas Jenkins’ 2016 documentary, Walkor this explanation of categories from Paris Is Burning.)

Ike and Tina Turner, “Live in Mexico” (1975)
Once upon a stage in Mexico, a squad of obscenely talented and sharply dressed folks assembled with one mission at hand: to fuck shit up. And so for 45 minutes, Tina Turner and the gang murked said stage and the ancestors were pleased. Watching them kirk out to Ringo Starr’s “Oh My My (Can You Boogie)” made me want to put on my flyest folkspants and heel-toe down to la discoteca for some vigorous rug cutting. Nutbush, Tennessee’s most indefatigable dancebreak enthusiast left no corner of the stage unconquered, no strand of hair unwhipped. And then there’s her voice, which, amidst relentless choreography and effortless stunting, was as powerful and as unflinching as Sister Souljah’s mighty and unwavering side ponytail. Special shoutout to Ike’s legendary T-Boz-esque baritone on “Proud Mary.” Always the perfect Spliff Star to Tina’s rowdy Busta Rhymes. Magic. Highlights: Aside from everydamnthing, “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Oh My My,” “Proud Mary,” and “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Wedding dance scene, Coming To America (1988)
The dance scene from Prince Akeem’s wedding in Eddie Murphy’s Coming To America is just as impressive today as it was 28 years ago. Brought to you by the Queen of the Jazz Hands, Paula Abdul, the performance (20 dancers and 19 thousand feathers) announces the arrival of Akeem’s bride-to-be, Imani Izzi (Vanessa Bell Calloway). It’s greatness has stood the test of time, as Busta Rhymes (and Fatima Robinson) recreated the scene in his video for “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” 10 years later, and Kandi Burruss did the same for her wedding entrance. Fun fact: There was a pilot for a Coming To America TV show (starring Tommy Davidson) filmed in 1989, but it didn’t go anywhere. Womp.

Charlie Green, “The Bus Stop” (1975)
Line dances, like Countess Vaughn GIFs, are the gifts that keep on giving. “The Electric Slide,” like rice, has been a guiding force in my life for as long as I can remember. Because of that, my heart Harlem Shakes with glee when I see a pack of Black folks stepping, dipping, twirling, and clapping in unison, or I sense a moment of Collective Black Dancefloor Excellence simmering. It recharges my soul or whatever. Enter: Charlie Green’s “The Bus Stop.” If only I could’ve been there, juking Blackfully amongst the lively, well dressed Cat Daddies and Foxy Mamas with freshly picked naturals, powerfully starched churchy skirts, and velveteen three-piece suits aplenty, all jamming on the motherfucking one. Thankfully, these Good Times-era get downs made magic like “Grown Folks Dancing,” a weekly two-stepping twerkathon for mamas and pappies in my hometown, possible. Behold my future.

Minnie Riperton, “Young, Willing, and Able” (1974)
As these words appear on the page, I’m in a cafe killin’ em with the shoulders while watching Minnie Riperton’s rockin’-ass live rendition of her funky DTF proclamation, “Young, Willing, and Able” for the sixth time today. Known mostly for 1975’s breathy birdsong “Loving You,” Lady Riperton left behind a rich, vibrant catalog of winners like this one. The way Minnie jazz-walked onto that stage and fell right into that groove with her band on The Mike Douglas Show let you know that she was not here to play with you hoes. The performance shows all the reasons I love her: her mastery of groovy sexytime anthems, the growl, and that soul in her voice. And I love anything that includes the phrase “too hot to trot,” because it reminds me of a homegirl’s Memphis-born mammy, who spoke in idioms and scriptures and made the best ribs I’ve eaten made by someone who was not my mama.

MC Hammer, “2 Legit 2 Quit” on The Arsenio Hall Show (1991)
To be down with Hammer’s 85-person performance squad, you had to be able to slay those frenetic-ass steps on demand, whether in a spandex two-piece and church shoes or a quilted and belted tarp with a hoodie. You had to keep up with a bionic one-man drill team who’ll out-dance you in a couch upholstery zoot suit, six-pound shoulder pads, and boxy Stacy Adams shoes, AND his bionic mini-me. And you might have to sing, too. The man who brought you “Pumps And A Bump” definitely put 245% more effort (and people) into his performances than today’s rappity rappers and shall forever be remembered for his high-energy eight-counts and prolific job creation. Put on your favorite microbraid bob wig and heel-toe down memory lane right quick with his epic appearance from the First Aunt Viv Era.

Tisha Campbell, Jasmine Guy, Angela Ali, and Paula Brown as “The Rays” on “Be Alone Tonight” from School Daze (1988)
Buoyant pageant hair. Pre-Whitley Jasmine. Pre-Martin Tisha. Aggressive shoulder shimmies by the dozen. Opulence. Magic.

“Eye to Eye” by Tevin Campbell as “Powerline” in A Goofy Movie (1995)
My life changed forever in the spring of 1995 after meeting Max, PJ, Roxane, and the gang in Disney’s A Goofy Movie. ‘Twas the Era of Legos and Donkey Kong on Super Nintendo, and after having the love of my life (PBS’ criminally underrated TV series Ghostwriter) ripped from my life because of cancellation, I needed something new to be obnoxiously obsessed with. This performance had everything needed to win my wee homothug heart: a song I could sing endlessly, mad choreo, sistergirl getting her Martha Wash on, the unmistakable voice of Tevin Campbell the young tenderoni, and impromptu group dance breaks. It’s among Disney’s Blackest moments, outside of Lion King and Tiana in Princess and the Frog. That Bieber chile could never.

“Come On Be My Baby Tonight” David Broom from MTV’s The Real World (2003)
Most likely, nobody has written a song as sickening as “Come On Be My Baby Tonight” about you. Chances are there have been no lusty scat or bebop-based overtures to push past thug lovers from your mind, if only for a night. But that’s okay. You can always dream of experiencing such passion.

And here is Millie Jackson grabbing dicks in the audience during a performance of “Something You Can Feel,” because legend.

This entry was posted in Art & Culture, Featured.