An hour ago I was in my car delivering a half dozen gluten-free pizzas to my wife, Nancy, and her colleagues in the labor and delivery department at Swedish Hospital in Denver. Nancy is on “deck” all day today and will be on deck all day tomorrow, twelve-hour shifts at the hospital where she and her colleagues provide medical care unsurpassed anywhere in the world.
The car radio was on, and I kept clicking the AM buttons in my nearly feckless attempt to listen to anything other than advertorials on the wisdom of buying gold in this era of pernicious and profligate debt or ads hawking services to reduce credit card debt and obligations to the IRS, first-line indicators of where our economy is heading. Advertisers are always at the leading edge of identifying society’s fears and weaknesses and insecurities, and national economic disaster and personal debt that cannot be repaid are tops on the list of people’s concerns.
I pushed button after button until I hit 950 AM and heard two bars of introduction music. In a nanosecond my mind whipped back half a century. I instantly recognized the beginning of Chubby Checkers’ performance of “Let’s Twist Again.”
I remember going with my family to Radio City Music Hall in New York City and watching a performance of the gorgeous Rockettes singing the song as they sensually twisted away. Quite a sight for the then 12 or 13-year-old! Frankly, it would be quite a sight for me today!
Those were happier times, or so it seems. No Al Qaida, no Hamas, no Iran soon to get the bomb because of a cowardly world, no country-crushing debt, no sociopaths flying planes into our country’s buildings and on and on. If there were national and global problems, I was not aware of them, at any rate. Well, there was the Cuban missile crisis, but who’s counting? I recall the era as a time of optimism, possessed of a vibrant can-do spirit, as I went to school every day trying to learn as much as the teachers were capable of teaching.
So, an hour ago, much of those up-beat positive recollections resurfaced. Without thought I pumped my right fist into the air in time with Chubby’s beat and thunderous voice. I don’t know what he was talking about when he asked us to twist again like we did last summer. I didn’t do any twisting the summer prior to hearing the song for the first time. In truth, I haven’t done any twisting since. But who cares?
I share segments of his biography stated on what purports to be his official website, http://www.chubbychecker.com/bio.asp.
Ernest Evans was born in Spring Gulley, South Carolina, but grew up in South Philadelphia, where he lived with his parents and two brothers. When he was a small boy, his mother took him to see Sugar Child Robinson, a child piano prodigy and also the famous country singer Ernest Tubb. Young Evans was so impressed, that he vowed to someday enter show business and took his first step toward that goal by forming a street corner harmony group when he was only 11 years old. . It was Ernest’s boss at the Produce Market, Tony A., who gave Ernest the nickname “Chubby”.
The storeowner of Fresh Farm Poultry, Henry Colt, was so impressed, he began showing off his employee to his customers through a loud speaker. Henry and his friend Kal-Mann arranged for young Chubby to do a private recording for Dick Clark. A Yuletide novelty tune called, “Jingle Bells” on which Chubby did several impressions of top recording stars, was cut. Dick Clark sent it out as a Christmas greeting to all of his friends and associates in the music business. Cameo-Parkway liked it so much that they wrote a song called “The Class” and it became Chubby’s first hit in early 1959.
“The Twist” was not only the #1 song but it introduced the concept of “dancing apart to the beat”. Over the next few years, endless songs incorporating “The Twist” into its name sprang up such as “Peppermint Twist”, “Twist and Shout” and “Twistin’ the Night Away”. In addition, each new song brought a new dance involving “dancing apart to the beat” such as “The Jerk”, “The Hully Gully”, “The Boogaloo” and “The Shake”. At the forefront was Chubby with “The Fly”, “The Pony” and “The Hucklebuck”.
Now we have entered The 50th Anniversary Year of The Twist. Special ceremonies have taken place in front of City Hall in Philadelphia and Wildwood, N.J. and the 50th Anniversary Tour continues along with a Chubby Checker cruise in May, 2011.
What keeps this artist going? According to Chubby, “It’s the fans. The energy I get from singing and dancing with all these people over the years is unlike anything else I experience. I never want it to end.”
One interesting segment of the biography discloses that record companies didn’t think much of his “Twist” song and were not inclined to promote it. Chubby had faith in his song. He toured the country singing it and by force of will convinced innumerable radio shows to play the song. In a year, it was a number one hit. That experience is consistent with one of the major themes of my book: don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something. Not even yourself!
Before posting this statement I watched Chubby sing the song a few times on Youtube. It made me feel better, which is a good way to feel. I welcome any opportunity to feel better. Enjoy the bliss and whimsy of Chubby twisting again.