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Maurice Hines: A Life Under the Lights

The star in his own words, talking childhood stardom, segregation, and his brother’s legacy.

Maurice Hines, who charmed audiences three years ago in Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies at Arena Stage, returns with an autobiographical show full of music, dancing, and stories. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life, at Arena Stage November 15 through December 29, stars the dancer/choreographer of the title along with Washington’s Manzari Brothers—John, 21, and Leo, 18—who shared the stage with Hines in Arena’s 2010 production of Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies. Hines—whose late brother, Gregory, was a dancer and actor of equal renown—talks about the new show:

“I was reading an article about tap, and it didn’t even mention my brother. I thought, how soon they forget—because Gregory was tap to me, and I couldn’t let him be ignored. I decided I’d do a show to celebrate him; then it evolved into a show about my family.

“I first saw the Manzari brothers when I was getting ready to do Sophisticated Ladies. I was teaching at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and we were doing this leap and I saw all this hair pop up at the back. Then I saw a boy clutching his ankle, and that was Leo. I said, ‘Are you okay?’ and this voice from behind him says, ‘My brother will be all right,’ and that was John. They had some good dances, so I asked if they could tap. John said, ‘Yeah, we can tap,’ with all this attitude. I said, ‘Okay, you come to the Lincoln Theatre and I’ll let you know if you can tap.’ Of course, they were spectacular.

“In the show, I tell about the first time Gregory and I worked in Vegas in 1955 and how our mother hadn’t told us about segregation. We flew over the Strip and thought we were heading there, but my mother said, ‘The hotel you’re going to is in the other direction.’ The hotel was wonderful, but we wanted to go to the Strip and couldn’t understand why we weren’t allowed. I tell about meeting Tallulah Bankhead and Pearl Bailey—a great African-American singer—and how Tallulah wanted Pearl to go to the pool at the Sands with her, but they said she wasn’t allowed in the water. Tallulah said, ‘Then I’m not doing the show tonight.’ So everyone got out and they let Pearl get in the water, and then they drained it.

“I used to sing ‘Too Marvelous for Words’ to the audience, but now I sing it to my mother. I want the audience to know that it was this woman who came from nothing—who wasn’t in show business—who had this vision of our talent taking us all over the world. She always said the audience is the main thing. Without them, you may as well be in a rehearsal studio, so you owe them.”

Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life. November 15 through December 29 at Arena Stage. Tickets ($50 and up) are available online.

This article appears in the November 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.