Born Ernest Evans, 3 October 1941, Spring Gulley, South Carolina

In terms of chart performance, "The Twist" by Chubby Checker is one of the most successful singles of all time. It is the only record to go to number one in two separate chart runs - first in September 1960, for one week, and again in January 1962, when it topped the charts for two weeks. It was on the Hot 100 for a cumulative total of 39 weeks. This was a record until 1994 when "Whoomp! (There It Is)" by Tag Team had a 45-week run. Still, in 2008, "The Twist" topped Billboard's list of the most popular singles to have appeared on the Hot 100 since its debut in 1958.

Checker was born in 1941 as Ernest Evans in the South Carolina farming community of Spring Gulley, but his parents brought him to Philadelphia when he was ten. He attended the same school, South Philadelphia High, as teen faves Fabian and Frankie Avalon. After graduation he worked in Henry Colt's poultry shop on South Ninth Street, where he'd sing as he went about his chores, one of which was plucking and cutting chickens. (Hence his later characterization by the media as an ex-chicken plucker.) Colt was impressed enough to take his young employee to meet Kal Mann at Cameo- Parkway. Mann penned the singer's debut single, "The Class", which show- cased his skills as an impersonator of other artists and peaked at # 38 in June 1959. He was given his new name, Chubby Checker, by Dick Clark's wife Barbara, as a sly reference to Fats Domino.

The next two Parkway singles did nothing at all, but in the summer of 1960 Chubby would achieve national fame with "The Twist". That song had been written and originally recorded (in November 1958) by Hank Ballard, whose version was a # 16 R&B hit in the spring of 1959, on the B-side of "Teardrops On Your Letter". Checker's version was a note-for-note copy, so faithful to the original that Hank Ballard thought he was listening to himself when he first heard it on the radio. Ballard's version was reissued by his label, King, and went to # 28 on the pop charts, but was beaten, saleswise, by Checker, who enjoyed the patronage of Dick Clark's influential American Bandstand TV show. It was Kal Mann's idea to develop a dance to go along with the song. Checker first showed the nation how to twist on 'The Dick Clark Show' of Saturday August 6, 1960. Though "The Twist" soon topped the pop charts (peaking at # 2 on the R&B charts), the dance did not yet become a national craze. Chubby went on to record more dance-based songs, "The Hucklebuck" (# 14) and "Pony Time" (his second number one, a cover of a Don Covay song), before the twist was revived with "Let's Twist Again" (# 8) in the summer of 1961. This song was easier to dance to than "The Twist" and established Checker as an international attraction. This time the dance was promoted not only to the teenage audience but also to the adult discotheque audience in New York. "The Twist dance rage explodes into the adult world", wrote Billboard. Cameo-Parkway reissued "The Twist" (with a new flip-side, "Twistin' USA") and it topped the charts all over again in January 1962.

The second coming of the twist in late 1961 spawned four motion pictures with Twist in the title. Chubby appeared in two of them, "Twist Around the Clock" and "Don't Knock the Twist", both third-rate derivations of the 1956 movies "Rock Around the Clock" and "Don't Knock the Rock".

In May 1962, "Let's Twist Again" won the first Best Rock and Roll Recording Grammy. Other Top 10 hits by Chubby were "The Fly", "Slow Twistin'" (with Dee Dee Sharp) and a vocal version of the Champs' "Limbo Rock", which went to # 2 (his third gold disc). 1963 was still a good year for Checker with four double-sided hits ; then the impact of the British Invasion began to be felt. "Let's Do the Freddie" was his last Top 40 hit, in 1965. By then the bubble of dance inspired records had finally burst. One of his better non-dance songs, "Lovely Lovely" (1965) only went to # 70 in the US, but it was a # 2 hit in Holland, a feat to which the fact that Chubby married a Dutch woman in 1964 (Rina Lodders, a former Miss World - they are still married today) undoubtedly made a contribution.

A cover of the Beatles' "Back in the USSR" on the Buddah label (# 82, 1969) was his last US chart entry until 1982. In the 1970s (and beyond) Checker was largely confined to the revival circuit. He made an appearance in the 1973 documentary film "Let the Good Times Roll". A reissue of "Let's Twist Again"/"The Twist" on London HLU 10512 was a surprise # 5 UK hit in 1975. "Running" on MCA peaked at # 91 in Billboard in 1982. But it would be the twist once more that eventually returned him to the US Top 40. The Fat Boys' single "The Twist (Yo Twist)", with Chubby guesting on vocals, climbed to # 16 in the States and # 2 in the UK. It looked like being his chart swansong, until "Knockin' Down the Walls" went to # 1 on Billboard's dance chart in July 2008.

Chubby Checker, the King of the Twist, has not fared well among rock historians and he has never been a serious candidate for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, he managed to score a total of 35 chart entries (pop) in the USA and sold 15 million records in a comparatively short time (1960-65).

More info :
- Official website:

Recommended reading:
Jim Dawson, The Twist : the story of the song and dance that changed the world. Boston : Faber & Faber, 1995. 173 pages. As the back cover says, "An often sordid tale of racism, copyright infringement, Mafia machinations and payola", with Dick Clark in the role of the villain.

Discography :

CD : Until 2005, the recordings of Chubby Checker and other Cameo-Parkway artists were not legally available on CD. In that year ABCKO released "The Best Of Chubby Checker, 1959-1963" (24 tracks). Since then there have been numerous other compilations.

Acknowledgements : Jim Dawson, Fred Bronson, Wikipedia.

YouTube :
The Class :
The Twist :
Pony Time :
Let's Twist Again :
The Fly :
Teach Me To Twist (with Bobby Rydell) :
Limbo Rock :
What Do Ya Say :
Lovely Lovely :

Dik, February 2013

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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