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Hudson Valley Press

August 29th, 2012

Twisting the night away with music great Chubby Checker

Chubby Checker mingled with the crowd during his show at the Dutchess County Fair, where he performed hits from his long career. For the Hudson Valley Press/ED MCCARTHY
By Reneé Ruwe
& Ed McCarthy

RHINEBECK - This year’s Dutchess County Fair featured a special performance by timeless, beloved music icon Chubby Checker.

Introduced as “The King of the Twist”, Checker took the stage with his backup band, “The Wild Cats”. While many artists fail in their attempts to update their sound as their careers go on, Checker’s band has picked up a full tilt rock and roll edge. He captivated the audience, which ranged from eight to eighty, from start to finish.

Looking ageless and bringing all the right moves, Checker kept the crowd involved with a compilation of his famous songs, in addition to a journey through 1950s and 60s music, covering such hits as “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On”, “Blueberry Hill”, “Twist and Shout”, and “I Saw Her Standing There”. He also performed a Motown Medley of “My Girl”, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, and other classics. He even “channeled” Elvis, informing the audience that the King comes through him on tour to visit, with haunting renditions of “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Stuck on You”.

Members of the audience were brought on stage for a twist off and shakin’ demonstration, with Checker as their dance partner. His charisma and sense of humor are second to none, proved when he jokingly showed off his moves to the “Hucklebuck” and informed the audience that it was an “illegal” dance in the 1960s (only to be performed behind closed doors). For the grand finale, Checker performed his top hits “The Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again”, which involved bringing approximately 25 men onto the stage to dance with the band.

Chubby Checker was born Ernest Evans in Spring Gulley, South Carolina, but moved to Philadelphia when he was very young. By the time the future singing sensation was eight years old, he had formed a street corner harmony group. When he entered his high school years Checker had taught himself to play piano and imitate his idols Fats Domino, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.

While working at a produce market on 9th street in South Philly, Checker would sing and tell jokes to the customers. It was his boss, Tony Anastazi, who nicknamed him “Chubby”. Later on it was Dick Clark’s wife who named him Checker, as he reminded her of a young Fats Domino.

Dick Clark featured Checker on many of American Bandstands shows. Chubby went on and recorded a demo called “The Class”, which Clark loved and used as part of his Christmas greeting. He was soon Signed to Cameo Parkway records and his first release, “The Class”, went to 38 on the Billboard charts.

Checker’s version of Hank Ballad’s ‘The Twist” was first released in July 1960, and went on to become the only single to reach the number one spot on The Billboard 100 twice. Checker’s follow up single, “Let’s Twist Again”, won the 1961 Grammy Award for best Rock and Roll Solo Vocal performance.

Checker also appeared in two motion pictures, “Twist Around the Clock”, and “Don’t Knock the Twist”.

Checker has continued to tour extensively and has made commercials for Oreo cookies and a PSA for the Social Security Administration to promote changes in Medicare.

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