A native of South Carolina, Ernest Evans grew up in Philadelphia performing for classmates along with friends such as future teen idol Fabian Forte. The owner of the meat market, where Evans worked after school, arranged a private recording session with American Bandstand host, Dick Clark. As Evans completed a Fats Domino imitation, Clarkís wife asked him his name. When he indcated "my friends call me Chubby," she playfully responded, "Like in Checker?" That episode of humorous word play inspired Evansí professional name.

The resulting Christmas novelty, "The Class" (which featured impressions of popular singers by Checker), attracted the attention of the Cameo-Parkway label, which decided to release the record commercially (Parkway 804; 1959). His breakthrough came when Clark advised Cameo-Parkway to record "The Twist," a dance number written by r & b singer Hank Ballard and released as the B-side of "Teardrops on Your Letter" (King 5171; 1959), by Ballard and his group, The Midnighters. Checker sang his parts over an already-recorded instrumental track; released June 1959 (Parkway 811; 1960), the record took nearly fourteen months to reach the charts. Checkerís nonstop itinerary of interviews, TV dates, and live appearances (he is said to have lost thirty pounds during one three-week stretch of demonstrating the Twist) ultimately paid off, however, when the single reached top of the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1960.

The Twist phenomenon inspired a rapid succession of additional dance fads. Due to his close relationship with Clark and a savvy record label, Checker was well positioned to continue as the King of Dance King. His dance hits included "The Hucklebuck" (Parkway 813; 1960), "Pony Time" (Parkway 818; 1961), ""Dance the Mess Around" (Parkway 822; 1961), "Letís Twist Again" (Parkway 824; 1961), "The Fly" (Parkway 830; 1961), "Slow Twistiní" (Parkway 835; 1962), "Limbo Rock"/"Popeye the Hitchhiker" (Parkway 849; 1962), "Letís Limbo Some More" (Parkway 862; 1963), "Birdland" (Parkway 873; 1963), and "Twist It Up" (Parkway 879; 1963).

When the dance craze subsided, Checker managed to record additional hits, most notably "Loddy Lo"/"Hooka Tooka" (Parkway 890; 1963) and "Hey, Bobba Needle" (Parkway 907). However, his popularity was ultimately eclipsed by the British Invasion and American Renaissance styles such as surf music, soul, and folk-rock. Checker has continued to perform extensively, occasionally attempting large-scale comebacks. [Gilbert and Theroux. 1982.]

Back to Dance Crazes Back to Table of Contents