Mr. Nicholas was 91. With his brother, Harold, Mr. Nicholas wowed audiences with their wildly aggressive tap routines, which included slides across the floor and a signature to-the-floor leg splits done without the use of their hands to break the impact. The younger brother, Harold, died in 2000.
Their work influenced dancers from Gene Kelly to Fred Astaire to Debbie Allen Gregory Hines to Savion Glover.
Mr. Nicholas won the Best Choreography Tony Award in 1989 for his work on the revue Black and Blue. The brothers appeared on Broadway as early as the Depression era, in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. The were also featured players at the Cotton Club, and a career in Hollywood followed.
They performed with Gene Kelly in the M-G-M picture "The Pirate" (1948). Other film work had them dancing together without having genuine speaking roles (so their work could be edited out when the film played the racially intolerant South).
Fred Astaire went on record saying their work in "Stormy Weather" (1943) represented some of the most perfect choreography captured on film. The dance sequence in the latter picture was called "Jumpin' Jive." In the number, according to AP, "the brothers tap across music stands in an orchestra with the fearless exuberance of children stone-hopping across a pond. In the finale, they leap-frog seamlessly down a sweeping staircase."
Like so many dancers of their era, they started in vaudeville They were inspired by their musician parents, who played in orchestra pits.
"One day at the Standard Theater in Philadelphia, I looked onstage and I thought, 'They're having fun up there; I'd like to do something like that,'" Fayard recalled in a 1999 interview, according to AP.
The created an act called "The Nicholas Kids" and by 1928 they bowed in vaudeville. They were known for performing in top hat and tails. The Cotton Club in Harlem is where they got noticed.
The Nicholas Brothers appeared in Broadway's Sammy, a specialty concert starring Sammy Davis Jr. in 1974. Fayard appeared in the musical St. Louis Woman in 1946, and the brothers danced the specialty song "All Dark People" in the 1937 musical comedy Babes in Arms, which had racial intolerance as part of its plot. That song is no longer part of the licensed version of the Rodgers and Hart show, and a lyric-less version of it was used in the Encores! concert version that played City Center in 1999.
Harold Nicholas returned to Broadway in The Tap Dance Kid and Sophisticated Ladies. The brothers were awarded Kennedy Center Honors in 1991.
Mr. Nicholas was married three times. He married dancer Katherine Hopkins in 2000.