Chubby Checker (born Ernest Evans, October 3, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter best known for popularizing the The Twist with his 1960 hit cover of Hank Ballard's R&B hit "The Twist". In September 2008, "The Twist" topped Billboard's list of the most popular singles to have appeared in the Hot 100 since its debut in 1958.
Ernest Evans was born in Spring Gulley, South Carolina and as a child was raised in the projects of South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he lived with his parents and two brothers. By the age of eight Evans had formed a street corner harmony group and, by the time he entered high school, had learned to play the piano as well as entertain his classmates by performing vocal impressions of popular entertainers of the day, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley & Fats Domino. One of his classmates and friends at South Philadelphia High School was Fabiano Forte, who would become a popular singer of the late 1950s & early 1960s as Fabian.
After school, Evans would entertain customers at his various jobs, including Fresh Farm Poultry on 9th Street and at the Produce Market, with songs and jokes, and it was his boss at the Produce Market, Tony A., who gave Evans the nickname "Chubby". The storeowner of Fresh Farm Poultry, Henry Colt, was so impressed by Ernest's performances for the customers that he, with his colleague & friend Karl Mann, who worked as a song-writer for Cameo-Parkway Records, arranged for young Chubby to do a private recording for American Bandstand host Dick Clark. It was at this recording session that Evans got his stage name from Clark's wife, who asked Evans what his name was. "Well", he replied, "my friends call me 'Chubby'". As he had just completed a Fats Domino impression, she smiled and said, "As in Checker?" That little play on words ('chubby' meaning 'fat', and 'checkers', like 'dominos', being a game) got an instant laugh and stuck, and from then on, Evans would use the name "Chubby Checker".
Checker privately recorded a novelty single for Clark in which the singer portrayed a school teacher with an unruly classroom of musical performers. The premise allowed Checker to imitate such acts as Fats Domino, Frankie Avalon and The Chipmunks, each singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Clark sent the song out as his Christmas greeting, and it received such good response that Cameo-Parkway signed Checker to a recording contract. Titled "The Class," the single became Checker's first release, charting at #38 in the spring of 1959.
Checker introduced his version of "The Twist" in July 1960 on The Clay Cole Show, a local New York City television program broadcast live from Palisades Amusement Park. "The Twist" went on to become the only single to top the Billboard Hot 100 twice, in two separate chart runs. (Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" had done so on Billboard's earlier chart.)
"The Twist" had previously peaked at #16 on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart, in the 1959 version recorded by its author, Hank Ballard, whose band The Midnighters first performed the dance on stage. Checker's "Twist," however, was a nationwide smash. The song was so ubiquitous that Checker felt critics of his thought he could only succeed with dance records typecasting him as a dance artist. Checker later lamented:
"...in a way, "The Twist" really ruined my life. I was on my way to becoming a big nightclub performer, and "The Twist" just wiped it out.. It got so out of proportion. No one ever believes I have talent."
Despite Checker's initial disapproval, he found follow-up success with a succession of up-tempo dance tracks and produced a series of successful dance-related singles, including "The Hucklebuck" (#14), "The Fly" (#7), "Dance the Mess Around" (#24), and "Pony Time", which became his second #1 single. Checker's follow-up "twist" single, "Let's Twist Again", won the 1961 Grammy Award for Best Rock & Roll Solo Vocal Performance. A 1962 duet with Dee Dee Sharp, "Slow Twistin'", reached #3 on the national charts. "Limbo Rock" reached #2 in the fall of 1962, becoming Checker's last Top Ten hit.
Checker is the only recording artist to place five albums in the Top 12 all at once. The performer has often claimed to have personally changed the way we dance to the beat of music, as when he told Billboard, "Anyplace on the planet, when someone has a song that has a beat, they're on the floor dancing apart to the beat. And before Chubby Checker, it wasn't here." Clay Cole agreed: "Chubby Checker has never been properly acknowledged for one major contribution to pop culture – Chubby and the Twist got adults out and onto the dance floor for the very first time. Before the Twist dance phenomenon, grownups did not dance to teenage music."
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In 1964, he married the Dutch Catharina Lodders, who was Miss World in 1962. Checker continued to have Top 40 singles until 1965, but changes in public taste ended his hit-making career. He spent much of the rest of the 1960s touring and recording in Europe. The 1970s saw him become a staple on the oldies circuit, including a temporary stint as a disco artist. In 1983, he fathered a daughter, Mistie, with Pam Bass. Mistie Williams is currently a professional women's basketball player in the WNBA.
His material during his 1960s heyday was recorded for Cameo-Parkway Records and along with the label's other material, became unavailable after the early 1970s because of the company's internal legal disputes. For decades, almost all compilations of Checker's hits consisted of re-recordings. A dance-floor cover version of The Beatles' "Back in the USSR" was released in 1969 on Buddah Records, but only charted at #82. It was Checker's last chart appearance until 1982.
He also recorded a psychedelic album in the early '70s that was initially only released in Europe. Originally the album was named "Chequered!", but renamed "New Revelation" in later releases. To this day, Checker dislikes to talk about the album.
Despite his mixed feelings towards his biggest hit single, Checker has always been able to capitalize on its enduring popularity. In 1987, he recorded a new version of "The Twist" with rap trio The Fat Boys. The lyrics to this new version implied he was pleased with his association with it. Checker also sang the song in a commercial for Oreo cookies in the early 1990s. In 2008, he performed "The Twist" in venues ranging from the Daytona 500 to The Opie and Anthony Show.
In 2004, Chubby Checker protested the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his hit The Twist receiving lack of airplay, claiming that "Peppermint Twist receives more airplay". Seymour Stein, president of the Rock Hall's New York chapter and member of the nomination committee, claimed "I think that Chubby is someone who will be considered. He has in certain years."
In 2008 Chubby Checker's "The Twist" was named the biggest chart hit of all time by Billboard magazine. Billboard looked at all singles that made the charts between 1958 and 2008.
Checker had a #1 single on Billboard's dance chart in July 2008 with "Knock Down the Walls". He also owns his own restaurant and continues to perform on a regular basis.
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Chubby Checher and the Wildcats are pictured above at their May 2, 2009 concert at Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida. To learn more about this legendary performer, visit the resources below.