The Life of the Legend Chubby Checker

A black and white photo of three boys in a living room.

Ernest Evans was born in Spring Gulley, South Carolina, but grew up in South Philadelphia, where he lived with his parents and two brothers. When he was a small boy, his mother took him to see Sugar Child Robinson, a child piano prodigy, and also the famous country singer Ernest Tubb. Young Evans was so impressed that he vowed to enter show business someday. He took his first step toward that goal by forming a street corner harmony group when he was only 11 years old.

By the time he entered high school, Ernest had learned to play the piano a little at Settlement Music School and could do several vocal impressions. He also went to South Philadelphia High School with his friend Fabian Forte, who would have showbiz success of his own. He entertained his classmates whenever he could. After school, Chubby would sing and crack jokes at his various jobs, including Fresh Farm Poultry on 9th Street and at the Produce Market. It was Ernest's boss at the Produce Market, Tony A., who gave Ernest the nickname "Chubby".

The Store owner of Fresh Farm Poultry, Henry Colt, was so impressed that he began showing off his employees to his customers through a loudspeaker. Henry and his friend Kal-Mann arranged for young Chubby to do a private recording for Dick Clark. A Yuletide novelty tune called "Jingle Bells," on which Chubby did several impressions of top recording stars, was cut. Dick Clark sent it out as a Christmas greeting to all of his friends and associates in the music business. Cameo-Parkway liked it so much that they wrote a song called "The Class," which became Chubby's first hit in early 1959.

In June 1959, Chubby recorded "The Twist". Bernie Lowe, president of Cameo-Parkway Records, was not initially impressed with Chubby's recording and felt it may be a "B" side at best. However, Chubby felt "The Twist" was something special and worked hard to promote the record by undertaking nonstop rounds of TV dates, interviews, and live performances. Fourteen months later, in the summer of 1960, "The Twist" was a hit.

"The Twist" was not only the #1 song, but it also introduced the concept of "dancing apart to the beat". Over the next few years, endless songs incorporating "The Twist" into its name sprang up, such as "Peppermint Twist", "Twist and Shout" and "Twistin' the Night Away". In addition, each new song brought a new dance involving "dancing apart to the beat" such as "The Jerk", "The Hully Gully", "The Boogaloo" and "The Shake". At the forefront was Chubby with "The Fly," "The Pony" and "The Hucklebuck".

The next few years were prolific for Chubby, as hits followed hits. In 1961, Chubby recorded "Pony Time", written by Don Covay and John Berry. It went to #1 and stayed on the charts for 16 weeks. In between recording and touring, Chubby took time to add feature films to his portfolio with the releases of "Don't Knock The Twist" and "Twist Around The Clock".

In the fall of 1961, record industry history was made when Checker's original hit record, "The Twist," re-entered the charts, and by January 1962, it was back in the #1 position. No other record before or since has accomplished that feat. Combining its 1960 run with its 1961–62 return, "The Twist" spent an amazing nine months on the U.S. bestseller charts.
Chubby Checker merchandise was everywhere and included T-shirts, shoes, ties, dolls, raincoats, and chewing gum. His success continued for years with the release of one dance record after another, with "The Fly" and "Let's Twist Again", for which he won a Grammy for "Best Rock Performance." More hit records followed. "Slow Twistin", "Dancin' Party," "Popeye the Hitchhiker," and "The Limbo Rock" all came along in 1962.

1963 saw Checker return to the hit parade with "Bird Land" and "Twist It Up", after which he followed with "Loddy Lo" and a series of other novelty-type tunes. Eventually, teens incorporated these movements into all songs that had a beat and called these movements "The Boogie," a permanent fixture in Rock and Roll and popular Music 24/7. While hits kept coming, the highlight of 1964 was Chubby's marriage to Catharina Lodders, Miss World 1962.

Chubby checker - the twist.

The 1980s were dominated by almost nonstop touring with some unique twists. ABC aired their answer to NBC's Saturday Night Live, a counter-culture show called Fridays, which starred Michael Richards (Kramer) and Larry David. A special appearance by Chubby as he sang his current hit, "Running" (excerpted on his website), was broadcast before a live national audience. However, by 1988, Chubby had demonstrated extreme musical diversity by recording a very different "Yo Twist" with the Fat Boys. This song went to #14 on the charts.

In 2000, Chubby branched out into the snack food business, commemorating 40 years of "The Twist" with Chocolate Checker Bars, Beef Jerky, Hot Dogs, and Popcorn, all to be washed down with Girl of the World Water (dedicated to his wife).
The Limbo Rock Remix and The Original Master of The Dance Hall Beat, released in 2004, became top 5 Disney Radio hits and favorites of DJs with their ability to bring audiences out of their seats and onto the dance floor. With the single and "LP" both on the Billboard charts, a new generation of Chubby Checker fans was born.

In 2007, Chubby returned to the charts yet again with "Knock Down The Walls", Billboard's #1 dance track. This song introduced Chubby to a whole new audience with its powerful, straight-ahead rock tempo and captured Chubby's continuous musical evolution.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, rewarded Chubby in July 2008 with a special award presentation. An honored Chubby thrilled a fervent crowd by performing his hits, new and old, to the delight of everyone. A lengthy photo and autograph session followed, which highlighted Chubby's favorite part, getting to interact with people.

As Chubby's touring continued, 2009 took Chubby abroad, including special shows in Germany (2010) as well as his annual appearances at Disney World. 2009 also marked the release of an updated version of The Fly. A younger generation now shook hands as the dance reappeared in clubs.

Now we have entered The 50th Anniversary Year of The Twist. Special ceremonies have taken place in front of City Hall in Philadelphia and Wildwood, N.J., and the 50th Anniversary Tour continues along with a Chubby Checker cruise in May 2011.
What keeps this artist going? According to Chubby, "It's the fans. The energy I get from singing and dancing with all these people over the years is unlike anything else I have experienced. I never want it to end."

Neither do we.