“Come on baby, let’s do the twist!” was a song lyric blazing out of millions of radios after singer Chubby Checker introduced the song in 1960.
When Checker, born Ernest Evans, introduced the song on The Dick Clark Show it began a national dance craze. Clark called it “the hottest dance sensation in the last 4 years.”
Last week in Atlantic City, while demonstrating the dance he helped create, Checker, now 72, violently twisted his body while onstage, tumbling over into the orchestra pit.
“It was worse than what it looked like,” said Checker, from his hometown in Philadelphia. “I’ve done this dance literally a million times – maybe more,” he said. “It could have been something on the floor, or the way the lights were reflecting – I don’t know. I was starting to turn after doing a couple of twists and BOOM, down I went, right on top of the conductor. First time in over 50 years I’ve ever twisted myself into injury!”
Checker takes part in 30 or 40 ‘oldies’ shows a year. “I used to do more, but I think 40 is enough these days.”
The busy singer also has appeared in several touring productions of the musical Grease.
Most people mistakenly believe that Checker wrote the song, but his version was actually a cover of the 1959 Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ R&B version.
“I don’t know what it was that made my cover go worldwide,” said Checker. “I think it was being at the right place at the right time, and plus the dance. The dance though, that was all mine.”
Checker’s version of “The Twist” has the distinction of charting twice on the Billboard charts: initially, in September 1960 where it remained for 18 weeks, then again in November 1961, where it was ranked among the top 100 for 21 weeks.
In between the Billboard listings, Checker recorded a follow-up, “The Hucklebuck” which made it to number 14. Fans of The Honeymooners remember Art Carney’s Ed Norton demonstrating the dance to Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden in the Season 5 episode “Young At Heart.”
Checker plans to get back on the road after the holidays.
“Maybe this is a way for ‘The Big Man Upstairs’ to tell me to take a break,” he said. “But I’ll be back. I’ve still got a few thousand twists left!”