Chubby Checker is an American rock icon. He became the father of the Twist with his 1960 hit cover of a Hank Ballard’s tune. “The Twist” never hit it big for Ballard but from September 2008 until August 2013, “The Twist” topped Billboard’s list of the most popular singles in the Hot 100 of all time.
The Twist’s main claim to fame was that it was the first popular modern dance where partners danced apart to the beat. Chubby takes credit for the change and said “Anyplace on the planet, when someone has a song that has a beat, they’re on the floor dancing apart to the beat. And before Chubby Checker, it wasn’t here.”. As if the Twist wasn’t enough, he also pioneered “The Jerk”, “The Hully Gully”, “The Boogaloo” and “The Shake”. And he was part of the power behind “The Fly”, “The Pony”, “The Hucklebuck”, and “The Limbo”.
I had a chance to see Chubby in concert in 2014. He’s still going strong at 70 and devotes a section of his performance to how “The Hucklebuck” was written and why he was never able to perform it on stage. The dance involves pelvic movement that was censored in the 60s but acceptable now.
Chubby’s dominance of the pop record scene was so great that he still holds the distinctions of:
-Having five albums in the Top 12 at the same time, a feat that hasn’t been matched to this day.
-Being the only artist to have a song hit #1 twice.
-And being the only artist to have 9 double sided hits.
Born as Ernest Evans in Spring Gulley, South Carolina, his family moved to South Philadelphia. He put together a street-corner harmony group later took piano lessons at Settlement Music School. He clowned around by mimicking some of the big voices of the time, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino.
How Chubby Checker Got His Name
His boss at the meat market where he worked was impressed with his impressions and contacted Dick Clark. It didn’t lead to a show appearance right away, but Dick Clark recorded some of his imitations in 1958 as a novelty Christmas tune that he used as a Christmas greeting. The tune, called “The Class” won him a recording contract and was released to the public. At the recording session, Barbara Clark asked him if he had a nickname to record under. He said that his friends called him “Chubby” and, as he had just been mimicking Fats Domino, Barbara suggested Chubby Checker. He had a new name!
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Controversy
Despite all of his hits and dance creations, Chubby has been passed over by The Rock and Roll hall of Fame and he’s not happy about it. I can’t blame him! In the July 28, 2001 issue of Billboard Magazine, he bought a full page ad that he addressed to “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 rambles a bit but finishes up with “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.”
Chubby was in the news again in 2013 when he sued Hewlett-Packer for an app named “The Chubby Checker” that estimated a guy’s penis size based on his shoe size. Someone should have known better, especially in a company as big as HP. The App is gone, Chubby is happy to see it go, and I can imagine that HP is still embarrassed over it.