Dancer-choreographer Maurice Hines

The Tony nominee reflects on his career and talks about his latest project, Tappin’ Thru Life, which introduces a new generation of tap dancers.

A dancer, actor, choreographer, director and singer, Maurice Hines does it all and, over the years, has showcased his talents on Broadway, TV and film. He started tap dancing at age five with his younger brother Gregory as part of a dancing duo that opened for headliners like Lionel Hampton and Gypsy Rose Lee. In his solo career, Hines has choreographed and directed numerous stage productions and became the first African American director for Radio City Music Hall. He also earned a best actor Tony nod for his work in Uptown…It's Hot. His latest project, Tappin' Thru Life, pays tribute to his late brother and to the singers that inspired him throughout his life, including Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Maurice Hines first put on a pair of tap shoes at the tender age of five, learning to dance at a famed New York City dance studio. He’d go home and teach his younger brother, Gregory, everything he learned.

A solo artist these days, Maurice pays tribute to many of the performers that he worked with, including, of course, his brother, who died, sadly, back in 2003, in a new show called “Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life,” which is now on tour.

The show covers more than 40 years of his exceptional artistry, and also introduces a new generation of tap dancers. John and Leo – is it -

Maurice Hines: Manzeri.

Tavis: Manzeri, (unintelligible) get that right.

Hines: That’s it.

Tavis: Let’s take a look at scenes from the show.

[Film clip of live performance]

Hines: It’s so hot (unintelligible).

Tavis: Just like you to introduce some new tappers.

Hines: Oh, yes, got to keep the youth together, and they make me feel younger. When you dance with them, they really do, they give you that energy and that positivity.

The kind of tap that we do, which is rhythm tap, rhythm tap dancing, which was created by John Bubbles and (unintelligible) my brother does it, it’s a form of tap that is just spectacular.

Tavis: These two brothers, the Manzeri brothers, tell me about them.

Hines: Phenomenal. I found, I was doing “Sophisticated Ladies” in Washington, teaching at the Duke Ellington school a jazz/hip-hop class, one of the ones, Leo, with the curls, I saw these curls jump up in the back and I went down.

He had hurt his ankle doing some of my choreography, and I said, “Are you okay?” and his brother said, he said, “No, my brother’s okay.” I looked, I said, “Brothers? Whoa.” (Laughter)

I said, “Can you tap?” and John, the older one, he’s full of himself, he said, “Yeah, we can tap.” I said, “Oh, I’ll tell you if you can tap. You don’t tell me, I’ll tell you.”

Tavis: I’ll tell you if you can tap or not. (Laughter)

Hines: So he came in, and then they tapped – unbelievable. Plus, they do everything. They do jazz, ballet, Horton, everything, and I always wanted dancers like that.

See, I had discovered Savion Glover, but I knew I was the wrong mentor for him. I knew Gregory was the right one, because Savion just wanted to tap. But my brother, God rest his soul, he said, “Maurice, one day, you’ll find the dancers that you like.”

When I found them, when they danced for me, I saw Gregory smiling at me. He said, “I told you.” I said, “You were right.”

Tavis: What made Savion write for Gregory and Gregory write for Savion?

Hines: Well because Gregory never wanted to do anything but tap.

Tavis: Okay.

Hines: I went into ballet and jazz and Horton and (unintelligible) and all that -

Tavis: (Overlapping) Singing, and -

Hines: Yeah, but Gregory sang too. But I knew Savion just wanted to tap, so I said, “I’m the wrong one for you, because I would,” it would frustrate me. Gregory was the right one, because that’s all he wanted to do ever. So that’s why I was the wrong one and Gregory was the right one.

Tavis: Yeah. Speaking of Gregory singing, and this will not surprise you, if I walked in my dressing room right now – I could prove this to you, so you know I’m not lying about this – on my iPod I got the best of Luther Vandross, and you know what song I listen to all the time?

Hines: Gregory and Luther.

Tavis: Ooh. Lord, Jesus.

Hines: See, it was amazing that you say that.

Tavis: That song, “There’s Nothing Better Than Love?”

Hines: It’s fabulous.

Tavis: Gregory and Luther together? Oh, Lord.

Hines: Gregory had a fantastic voice. We both learned how to sing because – by the way, our parents didn’t have money for singing lessons during those times.

So my mother said, “Okay, here’s what you do. You listen to two singers: Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis.”

Tavis: Oof.

Hines: That’s who we listened, that’s why we learned to sing.

Tavis: There you go, yeah.

Hines: So when I sing on the stage, my style was closer to Nat’s, because I idolized him. The phrasing, I idolized. So when people say “Maurice, your phrasing is so fabulous,” it’s not me. I am fabulous, there’s no doubt about that.

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)

Hines: But it’s because of Nat King Cole. All the singers in the show, I pay tribute to Lena Horne, who was to me the ultimate. You can’t – when I saw Lena and her music, that’s the greatest performance I ever saw. That’s the most perfect I ever saw. How she handled the mic, how she walked to the mic, how she walked to the – all those things that you think you know, you’d see that beyond anything.

Then Johnny Mathis, the voice is exceptional, and still is exceptional. So we learn from the great people. Because my father originally said, “Listen, when you’re around those people you’re working, you’re working with Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena, you’ve got nothing to say. What you got to say? You say nothing. You sit there and listen.”

So when people come up to me – I was just in Atlanta. People, “Oh, Maurice, you’re fabulous. Yes, I am, because I listened to them.” (Laughter) Because without the Ellas and the Lenas and the people that we knew, my God, we don’t come out the womb knowing.

The kids today seem to think they know everything right away. Gregory and I never did.

Tavis: Know everything and are entitled to everything.

Hines: Oh, yeah.

Tavis: Because they know everything.

Hines: That’s a big one. That just happened to a friend of mine about a show. They came in entitled. This buddy of mine, Charles Randolph Wright, who directed “Motown.”

Tavis: Yeah, absolutely.

Hines: Which is a great show, that’s what he feels they all feel. When he was in “Dreamgirls,” he was doing – I laugh. Gregory and I used to laugh about stuff. When Gregory had his television series, he said, “Maurice, doing this series, this is so easy.

“All they do is complain about how hard they’re working. We did the Playboy Club’s five shows a night. No day off. Oh, no.” So when people start complaining to me, I look at them, “What? You’d better be grateful you’re here (unintelligible).”

Tavis: Two quick stories – two quick thoughts, I should say. One, it is harder to find anyone better, as you said, at phraseology, diction, enunciation, Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole?

Hines: The ultimate. They’re the ultimate.

Tavis: Those two guys have never sang a word that you didn’t understand what they were saying.

Hines: That’s right.

Tavis: It’s so clear.

Hines: Oh, so clear.

Tavis: So melodic, but so beautiful.

Hines: Those singers were like that. Diction was everything, and certainly phrasing. In fact, I’ve invited Johnny Mathis to come see me. I’ve never met him, and I (unintelligible).

Tavis: (Overlapping) You never met Johnny Mathis?

Hines: Never did.

Tavis: Great guy.

Hines: Almost did in Philadelphia. But I wanted to thank him from the stage. I hope he (unintelligible).

Tavis: (Overlapping) It’s hard to imagine all that you and Gregory have done, and you have not met Johnny Mathis at this point.

Hines: I know, it’s so true. We met everybody.

Tavis: Couple weeks ago I was honored to get my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Hines: You got your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

Tavis: I got my star, but here’s the point. That’s not the point. The point of the story is I was excited to get it; everybody was there, great ceremony. I did not realize until everything was over, my mother was here, and she wanted to walk back outside, my family wanted to walk back outside.

So I eventually, everything kind of died down, and I kind of eased back outside when they had taken all the stuff down, the stage is gone and everything’s just, people walking – I’m getting walked on now.

Hines: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tavis: You know, all up and down the sidewalk. (Laughter) I look down and I look to the left, and I about had a heart attack. You know whose star is to the left of me?

Hines: Who?

Tavis: Lena Horne.

Hines: Whoa.

Tavis: (Laughs) That’s what I said.

Hines: Whoa.

Tavis: And I said, “This is ridiculous.” (Laughter)

Hines: (Unintelligible)

Tavis: (Overlapping) I ain’t got no business being nowhere in the vicinity of Lena. She’s like -

Hines: What a wonderful story

Tavis: Here I am, there’s like Lena Horne.

Hines: There she is. That’s a wonderful story.

Tavis: I was like, “Good Lord.” But it made me, it just humbled me.

Hines: You’ve talked about – I watch your show a lot. You talk about your mother a lot.

Tavis: All the time, yeah.

Hines: In my show, my show is really, has evolved into a love letter to my mother. Because it was my mother that really nurtured Gregory and I, and she had the vision. She had the vision for her sons.

I say that in my show. She had the, at the show I sing a song, and my father went along for the ride, now, he did, but (laughter) she had the vision. I sing, “You’re just too marvelous,” her picture, we found pictures of her when she was 16 and young, and when she met my father.

It was emotional, it’s a very emotional show for me, but it keeps my family with me, because they’re all together, you see. But I’m not lonely anymore. I was very lonely without them for a long time, and my -

Tavis: (Overlapping) You still miss Gregory every day, I assume.

Hines: Oh, yeah, and well, yeah, I do, especially now, because I’m having such success with this show about my family that I would call him up. “Gregory, guess what happened?” We’d call each other, “Maurice, guess what?”

It was, I really miss him, and I say it in the show. I say it, “I miss my brother,” and I have pictures of us dancing in Eubie and then “Sophisticated Ladies” and (unintelligible) movie. It’s a wonderful show.

Tavis: I can’t wait to see it.

Hines: You got to see it, it’s wonderful.

Tavis: And the Annenberg, it’s a new facility here (unintelligible).

Hines: Yes, the Wallace (unintelligible) -

Tavis: (Overlapping) Wallace Annenberg.

Hines: – performing arts center.

Tavis: I’m anxious to see it.

Hines: A wonderful theater, I went in there yesterday to see it. So perfect for a show, because there’s not a bad seat in the house. It’s 500 seats and the audience is close to me.

Because I go down in there. See, when I see you, I’m going down in there to you.

Tavis: Okay, cool.

Hines: Oh yeah, oh yeah, I’m coming for you.

Tavis: I’m going to stand and wave, “Maurice.”

Hines: I was going to say, “You’ve got a walk on the fame, a star on the Walk of Fame next to Lena Horne.”

Tavis: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter) You know what? I’m not telling you what night I’m coming now. (Laughter)

Hines: Oh, I will see you.

Tavis: I’m going to sit way in the back.

Hines: Oh, no, you a celebrity, I can see.

Tavis: I’m going to sit way in the back.

Hines: I have a hand mic, I got a wireless mic, I’m coming for you.

Tavis: Yeah. That facility, though, is, I drive by it every day, it’s so gorgeous from the outside.

Hines: Oh, it’s gorgeous inside.

Tavis: I’m anxious to see the inside, yeah.

Hines: Oh, it’s gorgeous. I didn’t know what it was going to look like, but it really, they kept all that marble.

Tavis: What do you – can I tell your age? Because you don’t look it at all.

Hines: Yeah, you can tell it. I’m 70.

Tavis: He’s 70, Maurice is -

Hines: Yeah.

Tavis: You don’t look it and where do you get all this energy at 70?

Hines: I’m really happy, and I refuse to have negativity around me. That includes family. If I’ve got some negative family, they got to go. (Laughter) They’ve got to go.

Tavis: I love it, I love it.

Hines: All the people around me are like that. See in the dance world, I’m a choreographer, I’m a dancer. Well you know what dance is? It’s heaven. So like I direct, I just directed Freda Payne in the life story of Ella Fitzgerald.

Tavis: Loved Freda Payne.

Hines: Well she did Ella Fitzgerald.

Tavis: The Payne Sisters, yeah.

Hines: Broke records, and she’s singing in Ella’s key and Ella’s scat. See, people just think of “Band of Gold.” Oh, no, no, Ms. Freda started as a jazz singer.

So when I’m directing actors it’s different, because they have to have motivation, they have all this. Dancers, what’s the step? (Laughter) They don’t come with no moods.

That’s what I love, because I’m like that. I can’t wait to get on that stage, I can’t wait. Once I saw the theater and I got all these women behind me playing, and they’re playing, baby, they are playing.

I’ve been with the DIVA Orchestra for 20 years. I don’t have the 15 here, I got nine. But they’re playing like they’re 15, and they make me sing. Because every show is different.

If your voice has got a little laryngitis, but that doesn’t matter. The audience matters. When I walk out there – Gregory used to say, when we worked together, he’d say, “I don’t have to worry about getting the audience. Maurice gets the audience. He grabs them by the throat.” (Laughter)

So I could be funny, I don’t have to worry about it. So I’m like that. I walk out, “Hey, everybody. I’m here in town.” (Laughter)

Tavis: And he is here in town.

Hines: I’m here in town. (Laughter)

Tavis: And “Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life -”

Hines: “Tappin’ Thru Life.”

Tavis: – is playing at the Wallace Annenberg Performing Arts Center.

Hines: That’s it.

Tavis: How could you not, with this energy, not want to go see this show? (Laughter) So I’m going to see it, I hope you will too. Have a great run.

Hines: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: And welcome to Los Angeles.

Hines: Thank you, my man.

Tavis: Good to see you.

Hines: Great to see you.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.

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“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: May 15, 2014 at 3:25 pm