Leonard Reed, tap dancing pioneer, dies at age 97
Saturday, April 10, 2004

From The Associated Press

COVINA -- Leonard Reed, a tap dance pioneer who co-created the famed Shim Sham Shimmy dance step and winner of the lifetime achievement award from the American Music Awards, has died. He was 97.

He died Monday of congestive heart failure at a hospital in Covina.

Reed, with partner Willie Bryant, left behind the Shimmy step that began as a flashy finale to their dance act in the late 1920s.

The book "Jazz Dance" by Marshall and Jean Stearns described it as "a one-chorus routine to a 32-bar tune with eight bars each" consisting of the double shuffle, crossover, an up-and-back shuffle and the another move, described as "falling off a log."

Reed was born in Lightning Creek, Okla., on Jan. 7, 1907. He was part black, white and Choctaw. His mother died of pneumonia when he was 2, and he never knew his father.

The dancer was raised by relatives and other guardians in Kansas City, where he won contests dancing the Charleston and worked summers at carnivals doing the dance.

He attended Cornell University but dropped out to pursue a dancing career.

Reed paired up with Bryant in a vaudeville act, "Brains as Well as Feet."

"Dancing has been my only love," he said in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "But I didn't let dancing stop me from doing other things. I had the ability to be multitalented."

He produced shows at the famed Cotton Club in Chicago and, in New York, was master of ceremonies for 20 years at the Apollo Theater. When he wasn't dancing, he was a songwriter, bandleader and comedian.

In the 1960s, Reed began producing for record companies and helped launched the career of singer Dinah Washington.

He once said his long, active life could be credited to "women, golf and show business." But not necessarily in that order.

In 2000, he received a lifetime achievement award from the American Music Awards. Two years later, he received an honorary doctor of performing arts degree from Oklahoma City University.

Reed is survived by his wife, daughter, granddaughter and two great-grandchildren.