For one thing, he began tap dancing for money at an early age (some say age 5), and he soon dropped out of school to pursue his career. Tragically, both of his parents died, so his grandmother became his guardian. He didn't like his first name, Luther, so he convinced his brother Bill to switch names.
(Later on, the new Luther decided that HE didn't like the name Luther, either, so he changed his name agains, to Percy.)
Robinson was still young when he first joined a dancing troupe, and he eventually worked on a vaudeville team, in nightclubs, on Broadway, and in movies. He is well known for tap dancing with Adelaide Hall in Broadway shows and with Shirley Temple in movies.
Interestingly enough, with all his tap-dancing success and despite his early start as a performer, Robinson never danced for white audiences until he was 50 years old. Of course, America was much more segregated back then than now. You will probably not be surprised to hear that Robinson faced racism. One story he liked to tell concerned sitting down to eat in a restaurant. A white customer complained to the restaurant manager that he didn't want a “colored person” eating in the same restaurant, and the manager suggested to Robinson that perhaps he should leave. Robinson just smiled and asked the manager if he had a ten-dollar bill. Puzzled, the manager gave him the money. Robinson pulled out six $10 bills from his own wallet and mixed them up. “Here, let's see you pick out the colored one,” he said to the manager. The restaurant manager saw the point and took Robinson's order.
(Are you puzzled? This is the way the story is told—in six or seven different places all over the internet!—but I would've thought that Robinson would have said, “Here, let's see you pick out the white one.” Or something like that.)
Check out Mr. Bojangles' famous stair dance!
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