cover image Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson

Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson

James Haskins, N. R. Mitgang. William Morrow & Company, $18.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-688-07203-2

An elegantly dressed man who could neither read nor write until he was in his 40s, honorary mayor of Harlem and one of the best-known black entertainers of his time, Bill Robinson (1878-1949) grew up an orphan in Richmond, Va., where he earned a living by shining shoes and shelling peas. Based on Robinson's papers and on interviews with his wives and friends, this dutiful biography tries to explain the character and personality of the popular but enigmatic tap dancer but is more successful at chronicling his career. Here are glimpses of his struggles to overcome the color barrier on his way to stardom in white vaudeville, musicals (especially The Hot Mikado), films and radio, his addiction to gambling and compulsive need to live on borrowed money, his generosity (he performed at more than 3000 benefits) and his love for his native city. Haskins is the author of Queen of the Blues; Mitgang is a black-theater historian. Photos not seen by PW. (May)