Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins on stage, 1948 Pictured: Cholly Atkins on stage in 1948 with his most enduring partner, Honi Coles, demonstrating the elegance and precision that defined their "class act." (photo courtesy of Cholly Atkins Collection.)


Charles "Cholly" Atkins (1913-2003) began his professional performing career in 1929 as a singing waiter in upstate New York where he met his future partner, William Porter. By the early thirties, the two of them were known as the Rhythm Pals, a vaudeville-style song-and-dance team. When that partnership folded in 1939, Atkins' landed a job with the renowned Cotton Club Boys, who were appearing with Bill Robinson in the Hot Mikado at the World's Fair. He toured with his second partner, singer and dancer Dotty Saulters, during the early forties. After serving in World War II, Atkins formed his most critically acclaimed partnership with high-speed rhythm tap dancer, Charles "Honi" Coles. As early as 1953, he also coached vocal groups who were replacing variety shows at theaters around the country. This led to an important position as staff choreographer for Motown Records from 1965-1971. During a stellar seventy-year-career, Cholly Atkins choreographed acts for countless artists, including the Cadillacs, Shirelles, Moonglows, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, O'Jays, Temptations, Manhattans, and Aretha Franklin. His creation of a new dance genre, vocal choreography, made him a towering figure in the record industry. The National Endowment for the Arts recognized Atkins as a national treasure, in 1993, by awarding him a rare three-year Choreographer's Fellowship. This generous acknowledgement for lifetime achievement in dance allowed him to teach vocal choreography and rhythm tap master classes at colleges, high schools and major dance festivals in the U.S. and Canada.

Learn more in Cholly Atkins, an essay by Jacqui Malone.