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Chubby Checker

How did the twist come about?

In 1958, a rhythm and blues musician called Hank Ballard wrote “The Twist” and it was his backing group, The Midnighters, who invented dance for their performances on stage.

In 1959, Ballard recorded “The Twist”, which was successful. But in 1960 Chubby Checker, a Philadelphia employee of a poultryman, made his version popular all over the world. 

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters - The Twist (1958)

Ballard's version of rhythm and blues from an old unknown song. At that time nobody imagined the phenomenon that it was going to become shortly afterwards.

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The term “twist'' was already used with the meaning of sexual attraction and dance in the song “Grape vine twist” created for the minstrel show, in 1844. Later, it was taken by the pianist Jelly Roll Morton in his 1938 “Winin' boy blues” song, but Hank Ballard and Cal Green were the first to record it. Green, the guitarist in Ballard's band, said that they had taken the idea from an old gospel song by Brother Joe Wallace and the melody from a song by the vocal group The Drifters.

Who was Chubby Checker?

Sponsored by Dick Clark, in 1960, Ernest Evans bagan one of the most stunning careers in pop history. He dazzled the audience with his stage name Chubby Checker and his version of “The Twist”.

He had a quick impact on celebrities such as Judy Garlan and Jackie Kennedy, who met him at Pippermint Longe in New York. For the first time, the black dance music emerged in the white society massively.

Chubby Checker - The Twist (1960)

Pop version of the song composed by Hank Ballard. In the first year, Checker sold three million copies of the single and the title King of Twist.

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When Ernest Evans was eight years old, he formed a street vocal group. In high school he played the piano and entertained his classmates with performances of popular songs. He also developed this skill in the evenings in others jobs. As a result, Henry Colt, owner of the farm where he worked, impressed by his skills, contacted his friend Karl Mann, from the Cameo-Parkway label, and got him a performance on the television programme American Bandstand, directed and presented by Dick Clark.

What was the impact?

It was madness, going from fashion to industry, with T-shirts and jeans with Chubby Checker's brand. In France it was played by Richard Anthony and Mina in Italy. It sounded from Count Basie's big band to musicals.

After him, lots of dances were performed. Checker passed around others as the pony, before seeing his star decline. But the twist was the one that made way and had the longest lasting memory.

Mina - L'eclisse twist (1962)

Song credited to Ammonio, pseudonym of Michelangelo Antonioni, and Giovanni Fusco. This twist was edited as a single and included in the film L'eclisse, directed by Antonioni.

Despite its success, the twist categorized Chubby Checker in the role of a singer with an unique style. The over-exploitation of this phenomenon by his record company prevented him from evolving and recognizing his true artistic talent to the world. On the other hand, Cameo-Parkway Records was the most successful label during 1962. In that year he sold twenty-five million albums, of which more than a third bore the name Chubby Checker.

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