Deemed “one of the pop-cultural symbols of the early ’60s” by Hugh Boulware in the Chicago Tribune, Chubby Checker is practically synonymous in the minds of most music buffs with the 1960s dance craze, the Twist. Though rhythm and blues singer Hank Ballard had recorded “The Twist” earlier, it was Checker’s version of the song that became the most popular and spread the dance throughout the world. “What we started in the ’60s set the stage for what is still going on,” Checker told Boulware. “We invented dancing apart.” Checker continued to capitalize on the twist—which he described to Jon Bowermaster in Newsday as a movement akin to “drying your butt with a towel while grinding out a cigarette”—and other dances during the early 1960s with such follow-up hits as “Limbo Rock,” “Pony Time,” and “Let’s Twist Again.”
Checker was born Ernest Evans on October 3, 1941, in South Carolina. Moving with his family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when he was eight years old, the youngster became a shoe shiner and was earning $60 a day at the age of nine. He then turned to the chicken-plucking business for a time while amassing fame in his neighborhood for his accurate impressions of singers Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley. Performing at work, in church, and on the streets by night with his harmonizing group, the Quantrells, Chubby—as he was nicknamed because of his portly build—was eventually offered a recording contract by Cameo Records.
Checker’s first two singles for Cameo, “The Class” and “Dancing Dinosaur,” failed to attract much in the way of public notice. As Ballard’s version of “The Twist” began to gain favor with dancers, Cameo decided to have Checker make a cover recording of it. Fortunately, Philadelphia, Cameo’s locale, was also home to Dick Clark’s nationally televised dance show American Bandstand. Chubby landed an appearance on the popular program, earning the surname “Checker” from Clark’s wife, who likened the singer to Fats Domino, and ensuring a wide audience for his catchy song and dance routine. As Ed Ward put it in his book Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll, it wasn’t long before the performer “claimed the top slot on the pop charts,” despite the fact that “it was a nearly identical copy” of the other artist’s version, “right down to Ballard’s signature cry of eee-yah.”
And the twist dance craze didn’t let up as fast as others. When teenagers’ interest in the song abated, adults began to request it in clubs, perhaps because the dance itself “was so simple,” in Ward’s words. As Checker’s popularity grew among adults, he was invited to sing “The Twist” on The Ed Sullivan Show; this induced Cameo to re-release the single, and at the
Born Ernest Evans, October 3, 1941, in Spring Gulley, SC; son of a tobacco farmer; married Rina Lodder in 1964; children: three.
Worked as a shoe shiner and in a produce and poultry business in Philadelphia, PA. Recording artist and concert performer, 1959—. Appeared in television commercials.
beginning of 1962, it once again climbed to the top of the charts. Between its two release dates, “The Twist” was Number One for a total of 40 weeks.
Banking on the huge popularity of the twist, Checker followed his hit tune with a succession of similar songs, including “Twistin’ USA,” “Let’s Twist Again,” “Twist It Up,” and “Slow Twistin,” and had six Top Ten hits between 1961 and 1963. Though the singer tried to inspire such dance crazes as the hucklebuck, the pony, the fly, the slop, and the limbo, like many other U.S. musical acts of the 1960s, he suffered from the impact of British groups on the music industry. Nevertheless, Checker enjoyed continued success as a club performer. “I got a trailer, four musicians, and hit the road,” he recalled to Boulware. “I realized that if I was going to continue to make bucks in this business, I had to forget about the stardom and start at the bottom.”
Checker made a recording comeback in 1982, releasing the album The Change Has Come under the MCA label, but fans seemed more interested in hearing him perform his older songs at nostalgia concerts than having him put out new material. Like other musical acts of his heyday, Checker has profited from a revival of interest in early rock and roll, tirelessly touring over 300 days a year with his band the Wildcats. But the singer still finds time for recording; he saw a re-release of “The Twist”—performed with the rap group Fat Boys—break into the Top 20 in 1988.
Checker has also earned visibility among television audiences with his 1990 appearances in commercials for Oreo cookies, in which he links his famous twist dance with the idea of twisting apart the two-layered treat. In an effort to secure his rights to the use of “The Twist” for commercial purposes, he held a press conference in January of 1992 and announced a $17 million lawsuit against McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada for using the song in a television advertisement without his consent. The singer still holds ambitions for another Number One hit and reflected to Boulware, “If you look at the twist as the top of my life… forget about it. There’s so much more Chubby Checker that I’m just dying to tell the world about.”
Singles; on Cameo Records
“The Class,” c. 1959.
“Dancing Dinosaur,” c. 1959.
“The Twist,” 1960.
“Pony Time,” 1961.
“Let’s Twist Again,” c. 1962.
(With Dee Dee Sharp) “Slow Twistin’,” c. 1962.
“Limbo Rock,” 1963.
Albums; on Cameo Records except where noted
Twistin’ Round the World, 1961.
Your Twist Party, 1961.
Let’s Twist Again, c. 1962.
For Twisters Only, c. 1962.
For Teen Twisters, 1962.
Don’t Knock, 1962.
Limbo Party, 1963.
Let’s Limbo More, 1963.
Chubby Checker’s Biggest Hits, 1963.
Beach Party, 1963.
Chubby Checker in Person, 1963.
Folk Album, 1964.
Chubby’s Dance Party, Dominion.
The Change Has Come, MCA, 1982.
Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, St. Martin’s, 1989.
Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll, Summit Books, 1986.
Atlanta Constitution, May 28, 1985.
Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1989.
Maclean’s, December 30, 1991.
Newsday, December 15, 1985.
People, April 5, 1982.
Rolling Stone, January 23, 1992.
"Checker, Chubby." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/checker-chubby
"Checker, Chubby." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/checker-chubby
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Checker, Chubby 1941–
Chubby Checker 1941–
Chubby Checker is an enthusiastic promoter of his place in history. “Since I recorded ‘The Twist,’” he told the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, “people have never danced [close] together again, whether it was to my music or somebody else’s. That, to me, is as important in music as electricity is in the world of lighting. I’m the tires the cars roll on.” To some observers, on the other hand, Checker happened to be in the right place at the right time to ride a dance craze to the top—“a lucky clown,” in the words of Entertainment Weekly’s Ty Burr. The truth lies somewhere in between. Checker’s recording of “The Twist” was one of the definitive recordings of the 1960s and a huge success by any standard. And though Checker is almost exclusively remembered for “The Twist,” he was more than a one-hit wonder, placing 33 songs on the U.S. pop charts in the 1960s and bringing seven of them to the Top Ten.
The son of a tobacco farmer, Chubby Checker was born Ernest Evans on October 3, 1941, near Andrews, South Carolina, in the state’s coastal lowlands. He moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with his family when he was eight. As a boy he shined shoes, and in high school he worked in a butcher shop plucking chickens. An early indication of his talent came when customers noticed his skill at impersonating the leading vocalists of the early rock and roll era—Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and, above all, a wildly successful New Orleans singer Checker admired, Fats Domino. Soon Checker was interested in music and performing with a streetcorner-harmony group, the Quantrells.
His first break came when the butcher shop’s owner introduced him to local recording entrepreneur Kal Mann. The recording industry in Philadelphia at the time was in the early stages of becoming a youth-culture hit machine that would spawn the careers of such figures as Fabian, Bobby Rydell, and Frankie Avalon; and Checker, still known as Ernest Evans, was quickly signed to the Cameo-Parkway label and given the chance to record. A song called “The Class,” on which Checker offered various impersonations, failed to crack the charts in 1959.
The style-making rock-and-roll-oriented television program, American Bandstand, with the perennially popular Dick Clark as host, was based in Philadelphia. Clark, on the lookout for new talent and alert to new dance trends emerging in the African American community,
Career: Pop vocalist and recording artist. Worked in butcher shop and performed with street corner harmony group, the Quantrells, late 1950s; signed to Cameo-Parkway label, 1959; appeared on American Bandstand and recorded “The Twist” 1960; appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, 1961; “The Twist” re-released, 1962; other top-ten recordings related to dance steps, 1962-63; touring artist, late 1960s-; recorded version of “The Twist” with rap group the Fat Boys, 1988.
Addresses: Management —Paradise Artists, 108 E. Matijila St., Ojai, CA 93073
booked Evans on the show to perform what would become his signature song. “The Twist” had originally been recorded by the Detroit rhythm-and-blues singer Hank Ballard, but had been released with little success. Clark’s wife re-christened Evans “Chubby Checker,” deriving the name from that of Fats Domino and alluding to Checker’s own portly build and, in October of 1960, Checker appeared in American Bandstand. Although his recording of “The Twist” was almost a note-for-note replica of Ballard’s, it was Checker’s version that topped the charts nationwide.
The innovative dance that accompanied the song with its hip-swiveling moves caught the spirit of rock and roll. Its unusual configuration, with dancing couples not touching each other but instead merely facing each other and displaying their own individual styles, seemed to offer a new spirit of freedom.
Chubby he may have been to begin with, but Checker lost thirty pounds as a result of demonstrating the Twist in concerts and media appearances over the next year. The singer enjoyed several more top ten hits in 1961, all of them drawing on the dance craze that Checker had already done much to set in motion. These included “Let’s Twist Again,” “The Fly,” and “Pony Time.” The latter provided Checker with another Number One hit. By October of that year, Checker was a bona fide national star, and received an invitation to sing and dance “The Twist” on the television program that still, seven years after it had made a superstar of Elvis Presley, reflected and formed the tastes of Middle America: he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in October of 1961.
Checker’s actual recording of “The Twist” had cooled somewhat by this time, but this television appearance prompted Cameo-Parkway to reissue the song. It once again rose to the top of the charts, remaining there for thirteen weeks at the beginning of 1962. “The Twist” remains the only song of the modern era to rise to the Number One chart position in two separate releases, and based on chart performance it has been counted among the top singles of all time.
In 1962 and 1963, Checker continued to hit the top ten regularly, playing a part along the way in popularizing new dances such as the Limbo and the Huckle-buck. In 1963 he married Catharina Lodders, a former Miss World from the Netherlands. His popularity finally sagged, along with that of many other American performers, during the British invasion years of the middle 1960s. Since then, Checker has made several comeback attempts, with only moderate success. He cracked the U.S. pop top forty with a cover of the Beatles’s “Back in the U.S.S.R.” in 1969, and with a rap remake of “The Twist” in 1988, undertaken, appropriately enough, in collaboration with the group the Fat Boys. That recording rose to the Number Two chart position in Great Britain.
The secret to Checker’s longevity as a pop icon was due less to new recordings than to his indefatigable energy as a touring performer. In the late 1960s, with his career at a low ebb, Checker put together a band and went on the road. “I said, ‘What do you got? You’ve got the Twist,’” he recalled in conversation with the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. “If you’ve got lemons, you make lemonade. Stop frowning. You keep your nose to the grindstone, be honest about your business and your fans will wake up.”
For much of the rest of the century, Checker spent well over two hundred nights a year on the road, making occasional movie and television appearances. Vigorously defending the rights to his prize property, he several times engaged in court wrangles over rights to “The Twist.” By the century’s end, “The Twist” was an indelible part of American culture, but Checker had not slackened his pace of personal appearances. In the year 2001 he appeared as himself on the hit television series Ally McBeal, performing in a bar that was hosting a Twist contest.
Twist, Cameo, 1960.
Twistin’ Round the World, Cameo, 1961.
Your Twist Party, Cameo, 1961.
Let’s Twist Again, Cameo, 1962.
For Twisters Only, Cameo, 1962.
For Teen Twisters, Cameo, 1962.
Don’t Knock, Cameo, 1962.
Limbo Party, Cameo, 1963.
Chubby Checker’s Biggest Hits, Cameo, 1963.
Beach Party, Cameo, 1963.
Chubby Checker in Person, Cameo, 1963.
Folk Album, Cameo, 1964.
The Change Has Come, MCA, 1982.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 7, Gale, 1992.
DeCurtis, Anthony, and James Henke, eds., The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, 1992.
Nite, Norm N., Rock On, updated ed., Harper & Row, 1982.
Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Roll, St. Martin’s, 1989.
Billboard, February 26, 1994, p. 13.
Entertainment Weekly, December 24, 1993, p. 67.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, July 14, 1993, p. 0714K7854; May 11, 1995, p. 511K0364; July 19, 1995, p. 0719K6760.
—James M. Manheim
"Checker, Chubby 1941–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/checker-chubby-1941
"Checker, Chubby 1941–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved July 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/checker-chubby-1941