Johnny Nit

(b. 1914, fl. 1920-1936, d. 1951?)

Dancer and choreographer, Johnny Nit performed on Broadway and in Harlem in How Come (1923), a show which also featured Alberta Hunter, and in Dixie to Broadway (1924-5). He was frequently billed as ‘the world’s greatest tap dancer’, and his reviews suggest no one was disappointed at the moniker. On Broadway, Billboard noted that Nit’s ‘dancing routine stopped the show’ (Gordon Whyte, ‘The New Plays on Broadway: How Come?The Billboard (Archive: 1894-1960) Apr 28 1923: 36. ProQuest). Nit played in vaudeville alongside Will Vodery’s band in 1925.

Nit arrived in the UK with Blackbirds of 1926, via Paris, in January 1927. He played in London’s West End before embarking on a lengthy tour, by March 1929 he was described as an ‘old favourite with Leeds audiences’ in The Stage. After the tour drew to a close in 1930, he danced in West End nightclubs, briefly played in another all-Black cast revue, and continued to perform in variety theatre billings. Curiously, there is a mention of him appearing with his own band in a Manchester nightclub in 1931 ‘Johnny Nit and his Virginians’, but there is no further mention of the group. He played in variety in the UK with Pep Graham (Brixton Astoria, January 1932). Variety lists him as choreographing for a revue around two white British performers, Tommy Lorne and Simon Elkin, in the West End in 1932. (Variety, 27/09/1932, 47)

Nit also recorded in Pathe’s 1931 short film ‘How Fast’ – and potentially the separate film Dusky Melodies (March 1930) and Black and White (1930). He was also in the film Everything is Rhythm (1936) alongside Mabel Mercer.

In 1938 he appears touring as Johnny Nit and his Rhythm Blondes, at Queen’s Poplar.

By the mid-1940s he was leading at a school in London, where ‘Every type of modern stage dancing taught’ (“Advertisement.” The Stage (Archive: 1880-1959), Dec 28, 1945, 5)

A clip from Mayes and Whitfield’s talk to the Tap Dance Research Network

Watch Nit’s extraordinary dancing – here in 1932

Links to further information

Piras, M. (2015) “Duke and descriptive music,” In Green, E. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington, Cambridge Companions to Music, chapter, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 212–227. [Brief mention of Nit]

BFI’s entry for Nit

Library of Congress Performing Arts database entry for How Come (1923)

Entertainers of African Descent at the Tivoli (Hull project)

Nit’s Internet Broadway Database entry

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