Chubby Checker, born Ernest Evans, holds a place in rock history as the man who popularized “The Twist,” a song originally a minor hit for Hank Ballard. Evans was given the name “Chubby Checker” by (American Bandstand host) Dick Clark’s wife, as a play on “Fats Domino,” whom Evans did impressions of in his act.
Checker’s recording of “The Twist” was a number one Billboard Hot 100 smash in 1960—and again in 1962. The song kicked off a nationwide dance craze, and Checker followed it up with such diverse hits as “Twistin’ USA,” “Let’s Twist Again,” “Slow Twistin’,” “Twistin’ Round the World,” “Twist It Up,” and (not really, but according to a bit of hilarious wikipedia vandalism) “You Stopped Twisting. Why?”
After all but dropping off the music charts in 1969, Chubby came back hard in a poignant 1988 duet with The Fat Boys:“The Twist (Yo, Twist!).”
Chubby certainly is an important figure in rock history, and no one thinks so more than Chubby. I was recently unpacking a box and ran across a page from the July 28, 2001 issue of Billboard Magazine. This page was actually stuck to my refrigerator door for ten years before my last move, and is a full-page, paid-letter from Chubby Checker addressing “the Nobel Prize nominators and the nominators of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, TV, radio, motion pictures, entertainment, entertainers, and the general public at large, world wide.” It’s seriously one of the strangest things I’ve ever read, and I was surprised to do some research and find its contents haven’t really been discussed, at length, by “the general public at large, world wide.” A full-page ad in Billboard couldn’t have been cheap, even in 2001—so whatever Chubby had to say must have been really important.
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In this rambling letter, Chubby Checker ranks himself in terms of greatness amongst Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Dr. George Washington Carver, Henry Ford, and Walt Disney, and suggests that he alone is responsible for people “dancing apart to the beat.” According to Chubby, “dancing apart to the beat is the dance that we do when we dance apart to the beat of anybody’s music and before Chubby Checker it could not be found!” As he clarifies in the letter, essentially, if you dance with someone and you are not touching—and you are dancing to the beat… well, Chubby Checker invented that shit.
In the letter, Chubby demands that he get his own private space, away from other performers, in the courtyard of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where they are to erect a statue on a “thirty foot or so” pedestal of Chubby in the pose from his “Chubby Checker’s Beef Jerky” logo (!!!)
In the letter, he is somewhat dismissive of Elvis and The Beatles, who, in his eyes were nothing new, though they did improve upon the artists that came before them—just as Chubby improved upon the hit song which he covered. But Elvis and The Beatles, after all, didn’t invent dancing—as Chubby states, “let’s face the truth… this is Nobel Prize territory.”
Here’s the full text of the letter, just in case it sounds like I’m making any of this shit up (Checker’s grammar left intact):
This is my message to the Nobel Prize nominators and the nominators of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, T.V., Radio, Motion Pictures, Entertainment, Entertainers, and the general public at large world wide. Should you choose me I’ll consider it honorable. However I have conditions for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
To place the “Twist” symbol that’s on Chubby Checker’s Beef Jerky, this statue on top of a thirty foot or so pedestal in the courtyard of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. l would like to be alone, thank you. I changed the business. I am often called the wheel that Rock rolls on as long as people are dancing apart to the beat of the music they enjoy. Before ”Alexander Graham Bell”...no telephone. Before “Thomas Edison”... no light. Before “Dr. George Washington Carver”...no oil from seed or cloning of plants. Before “Henry Ford”...no V-8 Engine. Before “Walt Disney”...no animated cartoons. Before Chubby Checker…no “Dancing Apart to the Beat”. What is “Dancing Apart to the Beat”? Dancing Apart to the Beat is the dance that we do when we dance apart to the beat of anybody’s music and before “Chubby Checker” it could not be found!
Elvis Presley is the King of Rock & Roll, no doubt, and we love him. However Rock & Roll was already here. He just became the king of it. The Beatles who we all love so dearly, their likeness was done by the Beach Boys, Buddy Holly and The Crickets. But it’s evident that they did it much, much better. Hank Ballard wrote and recorded the “Twist”. The inner city kids made a dance to that song. The record died on radio. Radio stopped playing the record. The “Twist” was dead. No one was going to hear the record and no one was ever going to see the dance. We re-recorded the “Twist” and campaigned the song and the dance at DJ dance parties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Radio stations started to play the “Twist” by Chubby Checker. We finally made it to American Bandstand and showed the world what it was. Chubby Checker changed everything. He gave movement to a music that never had this movement before. The styles changed. The nightclub scene is forever changed. Checker gave birth to aerobics.
He gave to music a movement that could not be found unless you were trained at some studio learning something other than dancing apart to the beat. It’s fun. The “Twist” the only song, since time began, to become number one twice by the same artist. Oh yes, we’re Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But lets face the truth. This is Nobel Prize Territory.
The “Twist” is very recognizable when you dance apart to the beat. But “The Pony”, two on one side and two on the other side, the dance that I introduced in 1961 is the biggest dance of the century. They do it to everything, in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and now 2000’s. And what about my “Fly”? To explain it better, throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care. If you “Fly” you automatically do the “Shake”. From I959 to this moment it’s either the “Twist”, the “Pony”, the “Fly”, the “Shake” or some other nasty stuff in between.
Please l urge you not to look upon my comments as self-centered, proud love thy self. This is not what this is about. Since l have such a unique situation in the music business, I feel only I can explain it. If the music industry knew or understood this reoccurring phenomenon, that’s renewed every time the beat begins, they would have explained it through decades. Yes, “Dancing Apart to the Beat” is Chubby Checker. Everybody is doing it everyday, every month, every year, since it’s discovery in 1959. Chubby Checker’s given the music business something great. Now he wants his greatness returned.
I want my flowers while I’m alive. I can’t smell them when l’m dead. The people that come to see the show have given me everything. However l will not have the music business ignorant of my position in the industry. Dick Clark said, and l quote, “The three most important things that ever happened in the music industry are Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Chubby Checker”. Now l ask you. Where is my more money and my more fame? God bless and have mercy. You know I love you.
P.S. l am also placing this letter on www.chubbychecker.com for the world to see. It would grieve me to have them ignorant of what l stand for in the music industry. Chubby Checker is King of the way we dance worldwide since 1959.
Here’s a Hall of Fame worthy performance from the man who invented aerobics, at the top of his game, with The Fat Boys: