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Bojangles of Harlem

by Nicholas Sammond

This dance number from the 1936 film Swing Time, featuring Fred Astaire, is in name at least an homage to the great African American tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. But the homage is paid through blackface minstrelsy. While there is a relationship between the "eccentric dancing" of minstrelsy and American tap, this number doesn't make that debt clear. It also associates minstrelsy with Harlem, in a move often repeated in white popular culture of the time. The move to associate swing music and black popular culture with minstrelsy was an attempt to impose Jim Crow on a vital and emerging cultural force.

Bojangles of Harlem

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A clip from the 1936 musical Swing Time.

from Swing Time (1936)
Creator: RKO
Distributor: RKO Pictures
Posted by Nicholas Sammond