The Leonard Reed Story: Brains As Well As Feet
Legendary Leonard Reed and twentieth century Black show business come alive again through the eyes of the man who saw it all.
If you’ve ever viewed anyone tap dance the Shim Sham Shimmy, you’ve seen Reed’s remarkable signature dance. You've heard his famous songs, “Piano Man” and “It’s Over Because We’re Through.” Now, experience his harrowing and exhilarating adventures that span his intriguing birth on an Indian reservation, his rise from humble beginnings as a minstrel performer and a barker for tent shows, his performances in Al Capone’s outlawed speakeasies, Vaudeville, The Cotton Club, The Apollo Theater, and his nationwide exposure with the original Showtime at the Apollo TV series and producing many musical short films.
Meet the performers who broke through racial barriers along with him to become unforgettable stars, such as Ethel Waters, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Edith Piaf, The Nicholas Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Sammy Davis, Jr., Cyd Charisse, “Moms” Mabley, Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, The Ink Spots, and Willie Bryant. Actors John Garfield and Laurence Olivier, producer David Merrick, journalist Walter Winchell, golfers Slammin’ Sammy Snead, Ted Rhodes, and and Tup Holmes were influenced by Leonard, and even Tiger Woods has gone on record with praise for him.
Leonard’s career took a surprising turn as he formed a lifelong professional partnership with boxing great Joe Louis. Leonard was one of the first Black men to break into Pro Am golf. He played a big part in the creative development of 1960s Motown artists. He became an important choreographer and producer at Chicago’s Grand Terrace, New York Cotton Club, and the Apollo Theater. His sometimes touching yet often comical challenge of being physically—as he describes it—“Too Black to be White, too White to be Black”—uniquely positioned him to experience the best and worst of behind-the-scenes struggles through the back stages and alleys of the theater world’s most celebrated haunts.
Thrill to the true Leonard Reed story, finally told through a no-holds-barred series of fascinating interviews, the author’s rich research through a treasure trove of historical documents, and more than fifty rare photos and illustrations that capture the glamour and excitement of the Golden Age of show business.
Appendices include Reed’s exhaustive rundown of almost every Black performer of his era; the theaters in which he and the others performed; synopses of Reed’s long-running nightclub act with boxing champ Joe Louis; and a typical Amateur Night at New York’s Apollo Theater. Indexed, and with a Foreword by author James Gavin.
About the author: Bill Reed is a journalist and writer, whose articles on show business, the Arts, and popular music have appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, the San Francisco Examiner, and International Documentary. His published books include Rock on Film and Hot from Harlem. He is also a producer of Jazz recordings for SSJ Records (Japan).