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Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates – A Short History

Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, born in 1912 in rural South Carolina, was a famous swing dancer and entertainer known for his unique tap dancing style. Bates lost his leg in a farming accident at the age of six.

Despite this challenge, Bates was determined to pursue a career in dance, and began performing as a young boy. He once said: “It somehow grew in my mind that I wanted to be as good a dancer as any two-legged dancer. He quickly gained fame for his innovative and energetic dance style, which combined elements of tap, swing and jazz. Bates became a fixture on the swing dance circuit in the 1930s and 1940s. He was a regular performer at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and also toured extensively with the Cotton Club Revue, a traveling dance troupe.

He danced with all of the most well-known bands of the 1930s, including the bands of Duke Ellington, Jimmy Dorsey, Cab Calloway, and Count Basie, amongst others. In addition to his dance career, Bates was also known for his showmanship and sense of humor. He often incorporated jokes and storytelling into his performances. He appeared on Broadway and made his first TV appearance in 1948. On the Ed Sullivan Show he had a tap battle show off with Hal LeRoy. He also performed in various movies and other broadway shows.

With his wife he opened the largest black-owned and -operated resort in the Catskills, catering to black clientele and featuring hundreds of Jazz musicians and tap dancers.

Despite the limitations imposed by his disability, Bates never let his missing leg hold him back. He continued to dance and perform well into his later years, and remained a beloved figure in the world of swing dance. He passed away in 1998 at the age of 86, leaving behind a legacy as one of the greatest tap dancers of all time. He was inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2005.

Peg Leg Bates on the "Ed Sullivan Show", 1955

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