Chubby Checker

Ernest Evans was born in South Carolina, but grew up in Philadelphia, where he lived with his parents and two brothers. When he was a small boy, his mother took him to see Sugar Charles Robinson, a child piano prodigy. Ernest was so impressed that he vowed to someday enter show business and took his first step toward that goal by forming a street corner harmony group when he was only eight years old. By the time he entered high school, Ernest had learned to play the drums, piano and could do a number of vocal impressions. He also made up little dances and along with his friend, Fabian Forte, who would have show business success of his own, entertained classmates whenever he could. He also sang and cracked jokes at his after school job at a Ninth Street meat market. The store owner, Henry Colt, was so impressed, he began showing off his employee to anyone who would listen. Eventually, he arranged for young Ernest to sing on a private recording for Dick Clark. The result was a Yuletide novelty tune called, "The Class", on which Ernest did several impressions of top recording stars. Dick Clark sent it out as a Christmas greeting in 1958, and it got such good response that Cameo-Parkway released it commercially and signed Ernest in early 1959. During the recording session, Clark's wife asked Ernest what his name was. "Well," he replied, "My friends call me Chubby". As he had just completed a Fats Domino impression, she smiled and said, "As in Checker?" That little play on words got an instant laugh and stuck, and from then on, Ernest Evans would use the name "Chubby Checker".

While all this was going on, a band called Hank Ballard And The Midnighters were playing at an Atlanta roadhouse called the Peacock Club. To liven up their show they had worked up a little dance routine. Hank wrote a tune to go with it, and three weeks later, on November 11th, 1958, the band recorded the original version of "The Twist". King Records put the song on the "B" side of "Teardrops On Your Letter", which made the R&B Top Ten in the Spring of 1959. In those days, flipping a record over to hear the other side was a common practice of DJs and "The Twist" started to get some air play. Teenagers loved the song and Dick Clark was quick to notice. He booked Hank Ballard And The Midnighters on his show, but the band made what must have been the greatest mistake of their career... they failed to show up. Dick then suggested that someone else record the song and recommended it to Danny And The Juniors, of "At The Hop" fame. When the recording session failed to produce any positive results, Henry Colt stepped in and asked that his protégé be given a chance at it. Chubby sang his vocal over a pre-recorded instrumental track. Bernie Lowe, president of Cameo-Parkway Records, was not impressed with Chubby's recording and felt that it might be suitable for a "B" side at best. For that reason, it took nearly fourteen months, from June 1959, to August 1960, for the Checker version of "The Twist" to catch on. Chubby worked hard at promoting the record, undertaking a non-stop round of interviews, TV dates and live performances. After three weeks of demonstrating the Twist, he had lost nearly thirty pounds.

"The Twist" became a dance sensation and scores of twist tunes followed, like "The Peppermint" Twist", "The Oliver Twist" and dozens of variations. This opened up a floodgate of new dances. The Fly, The Hully Gully, The Popeye, The Jerk, The Boogaloo, The Philly, The Locomotion, The Swim, The Hucklebuck and The Funky Broadway were just a few. Many of these were first introduced by Chubby Checker, who also kicked off the next really big dance craze, "The Pony". A song called "Pony Time" was written in 1960 by Don Covay and John Berry and was released on the tiny Arnold label by a group called The Goodtimers. When the song began to take off locally, it was brought to Chubby Checker's attention, and he covered it right away. Chubby's version went all the way to number one and stayed on the charts for sixteen weeks in 1961.

In the Fall of 1961, record industry history was made, when Checker's original hit record, "The Twist", re-entered the charts and by January of 1962, it was back in the number one position. No other record before or since has accomplished that feat. Combining it's 1960 run with it's 1961/62 return, "The Twist" spent an amazing nine month total on the U.S. best seller charts. Chubby Checker merchandise was everywhere, and included, T-shirts, shoes, ties, dolls, rain coats, and chewing gum. His success continued for years with the release of one dance record after another, with, "The Fly" (#7) and "Let's Twist Again" (#8), for which he won a Grammy for the Best Rock Performance. More hit records followed. "Slow Twistin'" (#3), "Dancin' Party" (#12), "Popeye" (#10), and "The Limbo Rock" (#2) all came along in 1962. 1963 saw Checker return to the hit parade with, "Twenty Miles" (#15), "Birdland" (#12) and "Twist It Up" (#25), after which he followed with "Loddy Lo" (#12) and a series of other novelty type tunes. Eventually, teens moved away from dance type songs, but Chubby Checker had made a permanent impression in the pages of Rock and Roll history.

In 1964 Chubby married Catharina Lodders, a former Miss World. He continued to make the Billboard Top forty with songs like "Hooka Tooka" (17), "Hey Bobba Needle" (#23) and "Lazy Blue Molly (#40). 1965 saw just one minor hit when his rendition of "Let's Do The Freddie" peaked at #40. His dance version of The Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R." was released in 1969 on Buddah Records and reached #82. He also recorded a psychedelic album in the early '70s that was initially only released in Europe. Originally the LP was named "Chequered!", but was later renamed "New Revelation". Even now, Checker refuses to talk about the album.

Checker has always been able to capitalize on the enduring popularity of "The Twist". In 1988, he recorded a new version of it with Rap trio The Fat Boys that charted in the U.S at #16. Checker also sang the song in a TV commercial for Oreo cookies in the early 1990s. In 2000, he branched out into the snack food business commemorating 40 years of "The Twist" with Chocolate Checker Bars, Beef Jerky, Hot Dogs, and Popcorn, all to be washed down with Girl of the World Water (dedicated to his wife).

In 2002, Chubby Checker protested to the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame that "The Twist" was receiving little air play, claiming that "Peppermint Twist receives more air play." Seymour Stein, president of the Rock Hall's New York chapter and member of the nomination committee, said, "I think that Chubby is someone who will be considered. He has in certain years."

In 2008, Chubby Checker's "The Twist" was named the biggest chart hit of all time by Billboard magazine. In July of that same year, he reclaimed some of his former glory when his single "Knock Down The Walls" went to number one on Billboard's Dance chart. In 2009, Checker recorded a public service announcement for the U.S. Social Security Administration to help launch a new campaign to promote recent changes in Medicare law. In the PSA, Checker encourages Americans on Medicare to apply for Extra Help, "A new twist in the law makes it easier than ever to save on your prescription drug plan costs."

Chubby maintained his career with live performances while releasing new studio music. His Maxi-Single "Limbo Rock Re-Mixes" and the 2009 CD "The Original Master of the Dance Hall Beat" by Chubby C & OD, featuring Inner Circle, were both on the Billboard charts attracting a new generation of Chubby Checker fans. He continued to perform on a regular basis. In February, 2013, Checker launched a $500,000,000 lawsuit against Hewlett-Packard for including an app called The Chubby Checker on its phones and tablets that estimated a man's penis size based on his shoe size. The app had been discontinued in September, 2012 after just 84 downloads, but Chubby feared it might associate his name with sexual and obscene images. In July, 2014 the suit was settled for undisclosed terms.

In 2017, the now 75-year-old singer still maintained a busy touring schedule of appearances across the United States.

Be sure to read Gary James' interview with Chubby Checker