Charles ‘Cholly’ Atkins born on September 13, 1913, was an American dancer and vaudeville performer who eventually became known as the house choreographer for the Motown label’s numerous singers.
Cholly Atkins was born in Pratt City, Alabama, in the late 1930s and began dancing in the late 1930s before joining the military in 1942 during World War II. After leaving the United States Army. Atkins rose to prominence as one half of Atkins & Coles, a famous vaudeville dance team that debuted at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, with partner Charles ‘Honi’ Coles.
Atkins and Coles toured extensively throughout the United States and abroad, appearing in showcases with prominent jazz and swing ensembles such as Louis Armstrong’s, Charlie Barnet’s, Count Basie’s, Cab Calloway’s, and Lionel Hampton’s. From 1949 to 1952, the two also appeared on Broadway in the theatre show Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Cholly started teaching dance steps to vocal groups like the Cadillacs, Shirelles, Moonglows, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, Little Anthony & The Imperials, and others in the mid-1950s. His dance moves were part of a new technique known as ‘vocal choreography,’ in which vocalists used sophisticated gestures and movements to enhance their vocal performances.
After working as a freelance choreographer for The Miracles in 1962, Berry Gordy hired Atkins to work as a Motown choreographer in 1964, and he began developing the routines that would later become the trademark moves of other Motown acts such as The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Marvelettes, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and others.
After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2003, Atkins passed away on April 19, 2003, in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was only five months away from turning 90.