Chubby Checker is one of only two artists who had a song go to the #1 spot on the charts, and return there at a later date. His signature song The Twist started a world-wide dance craze.
He was born Ernest Evans in Philadelphia in 1941. Evans worked as a chicken-plucker and as a grocery store clerk at various times. He enjoyed singing and became known for his impersonations of well-known singers.
He signed with the Cameo-Parkway label and became aligned with rock and roll promoter Dick Clark in Philadelphia. Inspired by a twist on the name of performer Fats Domino, Clark's wife suggested the name Chubby Checker for Ernest. He recorded four songs on Cameo-Parkway and one of them, a novelty song titled The Class, barely dented the top forty in 1959. On this record he did impersonations of artists such as the Coasters, the Chipmunks, Elvis Presley, and Fats Domino.
Hank Ballard was scheduled to do a recording session for Clark's American Bandstand television show but was unable to make it. An attempt was made to schedule Danny & the Juniors to fill in but they were also unavailable. Chubby Checker was brought in as the third choice to record The Twist, with backing from the musicians on American Bandstand. He recorded the song with his characteristic enthusiasm in a hastily arranged recording session. It entered the pop charts in the summer of 1960 and went to number one. The record and the easy-to-do dance that accompanied it were a huge success internationally.
Chubby Checker immediately followed up with a song that had made the top ten for both Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra titled The Hucklebuck. It was a hit, and his next song Pony Time went to #1. Other top ten hits followed ... Let's Twist Again, and The Fly. In late 1961 The Twist reentered the charts and went to #1. The only other artist who has ever accomplished that feat is Bing Crosby with White Christmas. Chubby Checker had just turned twenty years old.
From 1959 to 1965, Chubby Checker put twenty-two hits in the top forty. Some were recorded with other Philadelphia-area artists, such as Jingle Bell Rock with Bobby Rydell and Slow Twistin' with Dee Dee Sharp. Limbo Rock reached number two in 1962.
Dance songs were very popular in the early 60's, in large part due to the success of Chubby Checker's The Twist. He was also very popular in Great Britain, where his biggest record was Let's Twist Again. Many of his hit songs were written by Dave Appell and Kal Mann.
In 1964 Chubby Checker married Dutch-born beauty Catharina Lodders, who had been Miss World in 1962. His hit song Loddy Lo, which was written for her, reached number twelve in 1963.
In the late 60's he left Cameo/Parkway and eventually recorded for the Buddah and Chalmac labels. The saxophone that had been prominent on many of his early hits gave way to a "progressive soul" style. He appeared in revivals and in the 1973 movie Let The Good Times Roll. As disco music became in vogue he reached the lower rungs of the top 100 with his disco song Running in 1982. In 1988 he recorded a revived version of the song that had made him famous with the Fat Boys, The Twist (Yo, Twist!), that brought him back to the top forty.
Though it was originally Hank Ballard's song, Chubby Checker and The Twist will always be intertwined and remembered as one of the top dance songs of the early 60's.
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