Tap dancer-teacher-choreographer James “Buster” Brown, known for his grace as if floating on air, died Tuesday May 7 at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. He was just 10 days shy of turning 89.
Baltimore native learned tap on the streets and at age 16 joined up with two friends to become the Three Aces and later the Speed Kings, performing a mix of acrobatics, tap dance and jive.
As a solo tap artist, he toured with Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington. He also became a member of the Original Hoofers and the Copasetics and appeared in the 1943 film musical “Something to Shout About.”
He traveled the world dancing, but when tap didn’t pay, he made ends meet as a hotel clerk and cleaning buildings. Then tap made a resurgence in the 1970s, and Brown danced on Broadway in “Bubbling Brown Sugar” and “Black and Blue” as well as the films “Tap” and “The Cotton Club.” He also appeared on PBS’ “Gershwin Gala” and “Dance in America.”
During the 1990s, he toured as a guest with concert tap companies. His influence was honored in the 1995 Broadway musical “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk.”
He was given an honorary doctorate this year by Oklahoma City U.
Until recently, he continued to perform and host a weekly jam session for tap dancers at the Swing 46 club in New York.