The performer died of a stroke and pneumonia in Moreno Valley, California. His death was confirmed by his wife.
The legendary tap dancer Arthur Duncan passed away at the age of 97 in Moreno Valley, California. Duncan helped popularise tap dance to millions around the world for nearly two decades on "The Lawrence Welk Show" and "The Betty White Show" in the 1950s. Carole Carbone Duncan, his wife, had confirmed the death, according to The Washington Post. The reason for his death has been reported as a stroke and pneumonia. Mr. Duncan was still on the hunt for gigs as recently as last month, according to his wife. “He was performing until the end,” she said. He was a seasoned performer who enchanted the audiences at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and American military posts abroad. His legacy of tap dancing will always be a part of the thrilling mainstay of theatres, nightclubs, and Hollywood musicals.
Jason Samuels Smith, a fellow tap dancer, choreographer, and director spoke of Duncan saying that his performances will be a reminder “that the art form never died” and that “it would always live somewhere, through someone’s feet.” Smith added, in a phone interview, “He was really not just a mentor but an idol for us in the tap community.” Duncan was in his late twenties when he gained notoriety through NBC’s “The Betty White Show,” hosted by the future star of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Golden Girls." Later, the show was picked up by NBC and Duncan agreed to appear on a few episodes as a performer. He won over White with his rendition of "Jump Through the Ring."
In November 1954, Walter Ames, the editor for the Los Angeles Times, reported that “The fan mail began to pour in demanding more and more of Arthur. Betty got the message and now Arthur is a permanent member of her cast.”
Duncan's brilliant performances did not make him immune to racist speculations from people who didn't like the idea of Duncan sharing the stage with white performers. “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,’” read a part from White's memoir in 1995, “Here We Go Again.” Betty White, known as the "First Lady of Television” had stood up for Duncan at that time by saying, "I am sorry, but you know, he stays."
In 1954 Betty White had a talk show and faced criticism for including a black tap dancer, Arthur Duncan, on her show.— AFRICAN & BLACK HISTORY (@AfricanArchives) December 6, 2021
Betty responded with “I’m sorry. Deal with it” and gave Duncan more airtime. Her show was cancelled afterwards. pic.twitter.com/toipvY9cyQ
Arthur Chester Duncan was born on September 25, 1925, in Pasadena, California. At the age of 13, he learned the tap routine after being asked to perform with friends in junior high. Initially, he began practicing in the streets of Pasadena while working as a newsboy. He later joined a community college to become a pharmacist after serving in the Army during the Second World War. He continued to take dance bookings occasionally until he made the decision to take a six-month break and explore what show business is all about.
Duncan started performing abroad by the late 1950s and was the first Black performer to join Bob Hope's USO troupe. Later, he dabbled with theatrical musicals, doing touring productions of "My One and Only" in the 1980s that included Stephanie Zimbalist and Tommy Tune. Along with Dick Van Dyke, he appeared in the 1992 television movie "Diagnosis: Murder" and danced in an episode of "Columbo." Duncan and his wife of four years from Moreno Valley share a stepson Sean Carbone of Los Angeles. He has a brother and two sisters. His first marriage to Donna Pena ended in divorce in 1973.