This Day in Music History: Chubby Checker Performs the Twist on Tv for the First Time
Chubby Checker, born Ernest Evans on October 3, 1941, is an American singer-songwriter. He is widely known for popularizing the twist dance style, with his 1960 hit cover of Hank Ballard’s R&B hit “The Twist”. Checker introduced his version of “The Twist” at the age of 18 in July 1960 in Wildwood, New Jersey at the Rainbow Club, “The Twist” went on to become the only single to top the Billboard Hot 100 twice, in two separate chart runs.
Checker is the only recording artist to place five albums in the Top 12 all at once. The performer has often claimed to have personally changed the way we dance to the beat of music, as when he told Billboard, “Anyplace on the planet, when someone has a song that has a beat, they’re on the floor dancing apart to the beat. And before Chubby Checker, it wasn’t here.” One of his major contributions to pop culture is that is dance style got adults out and onto the dance floor for the very first time. Before the Twist dance phenomenon, grownups did not dance to “teenage music.”
By age eight Evans formed a street-corner harmony group, and by the time he entered high school, took piano lessons at Settlement Music School. He would entertain his classmates by performing vocal impressions of popular entertainers of the day, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Fats Domino.
After school Evans would entertain customers at his various jobs, including Fresh Farm Poultry in the Italian Market on Ninth Street and at the Produce Market, with songs and jokes. It was his boss at the Produce Market, Tony A., who gave Evans the nickname “Chubby”. The store owner of Fresh Farm Poultry, Henry Colt, was so impressed by Ernest’s performances for the customers that he, along with his colleague and friend Kal Mann, who worked as a song-writer for Cameo-Parkway Records, arranged for young Chubby to do a private recording for American Bandstand host Dick Clark. It was at this recording session that Evans got his stage name from Clark’s wife, who asked Evans what his name was. “Well”, he replied, “my friends call me ‘Chubby'”. As he had just completed a Fats Domino impression, she smiled and said, “As in Checker?” That little play on words (‘chubby’ meaning ‘fat’, and ‘checkers’, like ‘dominoes’, being a game) got an instant laugh and stuck, and from then on, Evans would use the name “Chubby Checker.”