Arthur Duncan– (b. September 25, 1925 in Pasadena, California)
Arthur Duncan was an American tap dancer who gained fame as the first African-American performer on the popular Lawrence Welk Show. Duncan danced and sang on the show from 1964 to the show’s finale in 1982.
Arthur Duncan passed away January 4, 2023 of complications of a stroke and pneumonia.
Born in Pasadena, California, Duncan entered Pasadena City College to study pharmacy, but left school to pursue a career in show business. He never returned to school due to his success as a tap dancer and singer. He toured with the Jimmy Rodgers Show, and had his own television variety show in Australia. After several years of appearances in Europe, Duncan was “discovered” by Lawrence Welk’s personal manager, Sam Lutz. After appearing as a guest on the show, Lawrence Welk offered Duncan a permanent spot as a member of his “musical family.”
On the weekly Welk show, Arthur Duncan usually had one solo tap dancing performance, accompanied by the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. On most episodes, Duncan also teamed up with fellow dancers Bobby Burgess and Jack Imel to perform popular dance numbers.
Duncan’s unique position as the only African-American performer on the show created (to the modern 21st Century eye), somewhat awkward moments. In an era when blacks and whites did not hold hands or even kiss each other on television shows (the first interracial kiss took place in Star Trek in the late 1960s, creating a firestorm of controversy), the large, all cast production numbers which often showed various white male and female performers holding hands and dancing, Arthur Duncan is often seen standing in the background, trying very hard to not look like he is “with” any of the women. In the later 1970s and early 1980s, when racial taboos had eased, Duncan did perform choral dance numbers with Mary Lou Metzger and Anacani.
Since the end of the Lawrence Welk Show in 1982, Duncan has appeared in several television shows, and in the tap dancing movie Tap, with famous tap dancers Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr.
Arthur Duncan Links and Resources:
Arthur Duncan–IMDB Movie Database
Arthur Duncan–Wikipedia article
Arthur Duncan–Bio from Welkshow.com
Career and Life Highlights of Arthur Duncan
— Toured with the Jimmy Rodgers show
–starred in his own variety television show in Australia.
–Five years of appearances in clubs in London, Paris, Cairo, Beirut
–three years in the winter and summer resorts of Switzerland.
–appeared at the Basin Street West in Los Angeles with Lionel Hampton
–appeared as a guest on the Lawrence Welk show.
–1964, Duncan was hired full-time by Lawrence Welk to tap dance on his show
Attended Pasadena City College, studied pharmacy. Left school to perform, did not graduate.
Awards and Citations:
2004: Flo-Bert Award for Lifetime Achievement of Tap Artistry
2005: Living Treasure in American Dance Award from Oklahoma City University
2005: JUBA! Award
Associates, Colleagues, and Connections of Arthur Duncan:
Lawrence Welk-Band Leader, director of the Lawrence Welk Show.
Jack Imel–Singer, dancer, musician on the Lawrence Welk Show. Often performed with Arthur Duncan and Bobby Burgess.
Bobby Burgess–Singer and dancer on the Lawrence Welk Show. Often performed with Arthur Duncan and Jack Imel. Was previously known as a member of the Mickey Mouse Club.
Television, Movie, and Stage Appearances of Arthur Duncan:
1951: “The Jerry Colonna Show”
1964-1982: Lawrence Welk Show
1992: Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke
1998: Columbo: Ashes to Ashes
2006: Alpha Male
–National Tour of My One And Only with Tommy Tune.