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Legendary Chorus Line Dancers

"When the music is right the feet automatically work," Elaine Ellis exclaimed with a serious smile, one of 16 of the now 84 to 96 year old "SILVER BELLES" showgirls who's lives are explored in "Been Rich All My Life" (Toots Crackin Productions), a 81 minute Musical Documentary Movie by Cinematographer Heather Lyn MacDonald that opened at New York's Quad Theater, July 21, 2006. This film has a swinging original musical score re-composed purposefully by Pete Whitman to bring the swing era to life without incurring many expensive rights required by using famous tunes.

In their youth these dancers were in the first Chorus Line at New York's Apollo Theater in 1934 and first to shut it down in protest of low wages and no rehearsal pay in 1940. That led to establishing the American Guild of Variety Artists, for both black and white performers nationwide, for which the more famous Radio City Hall's Rockettes also received the benefits.

Gathered together in 1985 by Bertyl Lou Wood-96 the former Apollo Dance Captain in the ‘30's these still gorgeous dancers in order of their descending ages: Cleo Hayes-89, Marion Coles-88, Elaine Ellis-86 and Fay Ray-84 and are lovingly managed and dressed by Geri Kennedy. On camera their Choreographer Mercedes Ellington reminds us that the routines might look simple, "young dancers find it very difficult to do. Nobody knows this stuff. It's being passed on by word of mouth, by word of foot."

Having originally met performing in Harlem's show places like the Cotton Club they learned their steps with entertainers Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington dancing to Billy Strayhorn’s "Take the A-Train"; Jimmy Lunceford’s Orchestra to Sy Oliver’s "For Dancer’s Only"; Louis Armstrong performances of "Royal Garden Blues" written by Clarence Williams and dancing at Connie’s Inn, Sm all’s Paradise, Cafe Zanzibar, Club Mimo and repeatedly at the Apollo, they each have wonderful stories to tell and of life events to relate.

Interspersed with historic Harlem film footage and black and white photos of the dancers in their prime, their stories unfold as a tribute to the tenacity and recuperative powers of the combination of dance, swing-jazz music and companionship.

See a Video clip at:

A not to be missed documentary of real life women entertainers whose lives will inspire future generations.
This First Run Features release is will open in Brookline, MA-Aug. 4; Indianapolis-Aug. 25; Minneapolis-Sept. 14; and Wilmington, NC-Sept. 15.

Dan Kassell
July 21, 2006
All Rights Reserved

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: SILVER BELLES
  • Subtitle: Inspire by Exuding Hope in Documentary Movie
Dan Kassell

Dan Kassell expands his curiosity by attending concerts, conventions, lectures and movies to take note of the History of Jazz from the indigenous Caribes in the Caribbean to Algiers New Orleans, Chicago and New York. As a member of the Jersey Jazz Society since 1972 he's witnessed musicians who learned from jazz's founders. Reviews also appear in, Amazon and and historically in AllAboutJazz-New York, Mississippi Rag or Jersey Jazz since 1972.

First inspired by Thomas "Fats" Waller playing "Your Feet's Too Big," Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, Louis Armstrong solos, Duke Ellington's Famous Orchestra and Bob Wilber with Marty Gross and Kenny Davern's Soprano Summit he's also became fascinated by the spontaneous improvisation of Free Jazz while working on publicity for Chico Freeman.

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