Trailblazing Black Tap Dancer Was 97

Pioneering tap dancer and singer Arthur Duncan, celebrated for his time on The Lawrence Welk Show and The Betty White Show, passed away earlier this month at the age of 97.

The Washington Post reported the news on January 17, that the dancer had died on January 4 at a care center in Moreno Valley, California. According to his wife, Carole Carbone, his cause of death was a stroke and pneumonia. She also noted that he was still searching for his next gig and was “performing until the end.”

Duncan was best known for being one of the first African American regulars on a TV variety show, joining The Betty White Show in 1954. At a time when segregation was still common, some viewers attempted to get him fired, but Betty White wouldn’t allow it.

He broke barriers during his debut on The Betty White Show, which was originally programmed to air only in Los Angeles. When the show was picked up nationally by NBC, issues started to rise with some stations in the South. In her 1995 memoir, Here We Go Again, White wrote of the controversy, “A few of the stations that carried our show through the South notified us that they would, ‘with deep regret, find it most difficult to broadcast the program unless Mr. Arthur Duncan was removed from the cast.” When the network approached her asking for him to be removed, she refused, and the issue was dropped.

Duncan later went on to show off his exceptional footwork on The Lawrence Welk Show for nearly 20 years between 1964 and 1982. Throughout the series, his tap routines were beloved staples of the program. The live band could be so overpowering he would prerecord his taps to ensure the audience could hear it alongside his routine.

Duncan is survived by his wife, his stepson Sean Carbone, a brother, and two sisters.

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