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Jimmy Clark

Blue Collar Rat


Water Rat register Number: 667. Initiated into the Order on 9 June 1968.

Proposer: Chic Murray. Seconder: Pat Dodd.

The respectability that tap-dancing now has a study in university, a subject for festivals and seminars is a million miles away from the social brutality from which it emerged. There were many black brothers dancing in the Clark Brothers home town of Philadelphia of the 1920?s. There was a ruthlessly competitive hierarchy of street-corners the better the performer the better the street they danced on. It is impossible to write about Jimmy without writing about his brother Steve. They could make rhythm 'on the spot', which was to come in useful in hotel lounges as well as clubs and theatres. They took any job they were offered and didn't ask too many questions.

Mention of the Mafia, says Steve, brings forth many negative views. "But they were very good to us, protecting us from bigotry" though I guess they were protecting their investments. Steve should know because two of the most famous gangsters - Al Capone and Frank Costello, were investors in the Clark Brothers talents. Costello was the most devoted patron and the Boys were engaged to open the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. But the Brother's were horrified to watch the routine humiliation dished out by Sinatra and his Rat Pack of their cousin Sammy Davis junior.

When interviewing the Brothers most of the talking is done by Steve, the older brother by two years, because Jimmy is rather shy. The names of the rich and famous they met and worked with during their career is like a Who's Who. The Brother's first engagement was at the Cotton Club in Harlem when they were 15 and 17 respectively. Steve briefly joined the Harlem Globetrotters, but before long he and Jimmy went off to join the legions of other tap-dancers working on the circuit of the black vaudeville theatres.

It was Frank Sinatra who suggested that they move to Britain after the War. In fact one of their first engagements was with Gracie Fields at a private performance at Windsor Castle for King George VI.

The Brothers opened a dance school "The University of Showbusiness" in London, where Cliff Richard and Bonnie Langford were among their pupils.

They were both members of the Grand Order of Water Rats and were always ready to perform at charity Shows, especially when they retired.. It was only when Jimmy started to have difficulties with his legs that they he stopped dancing.

Jimmy had five children all but one of whom were able to attend his funeral in Dunstable.

Steve has now retired to Brinsworth House in Twickenham

For a great read about the Brothers, and their life, get a copy of "Living With Legends" by Steve Clark

Secretary to the Trustees, John Adrian
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