Jimmy Slyde, Tap-Dancing Master, Dies at 80

Obituaries   Jimmy Slyde, Tap-Dancing Master, Dies at 80
Jimmy Slyde, who began tap-dancing during the Big Band era and maintained an elegant, seemingly effortless standard throughout the rest of his long career, died on May 16 at his home in Hanson, MA. He was 80.

Mr. Slyde was a living link between such tap forerunners as Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, whom he met as a young man, and modern torch-bearers as Savion Glover, with whom he performed in the 1989 Broadway revue Black and Blue.

Mr. Slyde's style was worlds apart from the athletic Glover, whose footfalls hit the floor with a pummeling force. As his adopted stage name would indicate, his feet slid and slipped across the stage, barely leaving the floor. The movements of his rail-thin body were minimal, but designed to register the utmost impact. Very often, he would indulge in a line of witty patter with the audience as he danced.

He was born with the only slightly less theatrical name of James Titus Godbolt, in Atlanta in 1927. His family later moved to Massachusetts. While taking violin lessons at the New England Conservatory, he began studying at Stanley Brown's tap studio, which was right across the street from the music school. He later said he learned his trademark slide movement there from Eddie "School Boy" Ford, a dancer who taught at the studio. He took on his new name after he began appearing as half of a double act with Jimmy Mitchell, who called himself Sir Slyde. Godbolt became Jimmy Slyde of the Slyde Brothers and the name stuck. Soon he was performing with the big bands of the time, including ones led by Duke Ellington, Louie Armstrong and Count Basie.

"During a song, I would tap about three choruses," he recalled. "And then the band would come back in, and I'd do another two and a half, three choruses. Then I'd close it up and whip it out. I tried not to get too mired in routines. I'm not a routine man. 'Cause dancing is a translating thing, especially if you're tapping. You're making sounds yourself; different dancers have different sounds. Some dance heavy, some dance light. I'm strictly sound-oriented. Tap dancing fits with the music — it's like a summation there."

In the 1970s he settled in Paris. There, in 1985, he appeared in the Paris production of Black and Blue, later moving with the show when it opened on Broadway. During this period of resurgence, he appeared in a series of films which featured classic tap, including Francis Ford Coppola's "The Cotton Club," "'Round Midnight" and "Tap," in which he danced alongside such contemporaries as Harold Nicholas and Howard "Sandman" Sims, as well as younger masters such as Glover and Gregory Hines. He opened the 1996 Jacob's Pillow Summer Dance Festival with a group called Jimmy Slyde and Friends. In recent years, Mr. Slyde collected several honors, including the NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award (1999), the Charles "Honi" Coles Award (2001), a Guggenheim Fellowship for Choreography (2003), and an honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts from Oklahoma City University. He also took on the role of mentor, serving as host of weekly tap sessions at the club La Cave in New York City. Glover was one student. Mr. Slyde still displayed his trademark elegance and finesse well into his eighth decade.

Mr. Slyde is survived by his wife, Donna, and a son, Daryl.

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