Maurice Hines: ‘Showman Extraordinaire’

In the 1984 movie, The Cotton Club, there’s a scene in which Maurice and Gregory Hines join a dance version of a jam session with a group of older tap dancers, including such legends as Charles “Honi” Coles and Howard “Sandman” Sims.

Maurice Hines passed away on December 29, 2023, in Englewood, NJ, at the age of 80. Five years ago, when I interviewed him for Jersey Jazz (February 2019), Hines recalled how he and Gregory (who died in 2003) “learned from the masters. The older tappers really adopted us. They were really brilliant. They thought like musicians.”

When Maurice was 12 years old and Gregory was 10, tapper Henry LeTang took them backstage at the Apollo Theater to meet the rhythm and blues singer Ruth Brown. “The Apollo wanted to put us on amateur night, but Ruth said, ‘No, put them on with me. They’re cute.’ We got on there and stopped the show, and she said, ‘They really can dance!'”

In the 1950s, the Hines brothers teamed with their father, Maurice Hines, Sr., for an act called Hines, Hines & Dad, performing in New York, Las Vegas, and Europe and appearing regularly on such television programs as The Tonight Show and Hollywood Palace. In the late ’70s and ’80s, they appeared in the Broadway musical, Eubie!, celebrating the music of Eubie Blake, and in Sophisticated Ladies, showcasing the music of Duke Ellington. Maurice co-starred with Chita Rivera and Donald O’Connor in Bring Back Birdie in 1981 and conceived, directed, and choreographed the musical, Uptown…It’s Hot, which opened in Atlantic City in 1986 and moved to Broadway.

Maurice introduced a show in 2013 named TappinThru Life, to honor his brother. It’s a musical journey, taking the audience on a nostalgia trip via narration, singing, and, of course, dancing. When it opened at New York’s New World Stages, The New York Times’ Laura Collins-Hughes called it “blistering hot”, describing Hines as “a singing, dancing showman extraordinaire.”

In November 2019, Hines presented Tappin’ Thru Life at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s TD James Moody Jazz Festival. He was accompanied by members of the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, and, as my wife, Linda, and I departed NJPAC, Linda turned to me and said: “If you can leave this theater without a smile on your face, you have no heart.”

There was a special connection between Hines and DIVA. Hines’ longtime manager, the late Stanley Kay, who also managed drummer Buddy Rich, created the DIVA Jazz Orchestra in 1993 after hearing drummer Sherrie Maricle play at a 75th anniversary celebration of New York’s Schubert Theater, an event at which Hines also performed. (See photo of Hines, Maricle, and Kay below).

In a Facebook post, after learning of Hines’ death, Maricle recalled that, “Maurice would walk on stage and throw his arms wide open towards the audience with his full heart on display. His energy transcended boundaries, and his performances were full of genuine warmth, generosity, and truth. He lit up the stage like nobody else.”

Hines is survived by his daughter, Cheryl Davis.-SANFORD JOSEPHSON

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The New Jersey Jazz Society (NJJS) is a non-profit organization of business and professional people, musicians, teachers, students and listeners working together for the purpose of advancing jazz music.