AN ENTERTAINER who once danced for US President Dwight D ‘Ike’ Eisenhower and worked with legendary singer Nat King Cole has died.
Will Gaines, 86, died of heart failure on Wednesday at the Sandleigh Road home in Leigh he shared with his manager of more than three decades, Chris Parry, 76.
America-born Mr Gaines had lived in Leigh since 1980 and, despite suffering from arthritis in later years, continued to performas late as nine months ago.
He began his career as part of a roller-skating duo, quickly making a name as a soloist jazz hoofer – a tap dancer who stays in one spot.
Before long, he was working with jazz greats Lucky Thompson, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan and Sonny Stitt at the New York Apollo before joining Cab Calloway’s Cotton Club Show in 1957 and even performing before President Eisenhower in Washington DC.
In 1963, Mr Gaines moved to London, appearing at the Pigalle and Ronnie Scott’s and taking up residence in Park Lane, working with legends Stan Tracey, Humphrey Lyttleton, John Stevens and Derek Bailey.
The following year, Mr Gaines made the first of nine Palladium appearances, but also played working men’s clubs and moved to Rotherham in the 1970s because it reminded him of home.
It was around this time he asked Mrs Parry to become his manager, which eventually led to him moving in with her family at their then-home in Woodfield Road, Leigh. She said: “I was a dancer and we worked together and, eventually, he asked me to manage him.
“But I declined at first because I didn’t think I knew enough about it.
“Later on, my husband invited him down and he started to stay with us.
“Like any artist, he could be volatile, but, on the whole, he was calm, thoughtful and caring and one of the greatest tap dancers ever – I’ve seen so many now I know he was one of the greatest, if not the greatest.’’ Mr Gaines became ill for about a month last year, which doctors concluded was due to a heart attack, meaning two gigs booked for July and August had to be cancelled.
Mrs Parry added: “He couldn’t walk very far without having to stop and rest. It was the only time I had to cancel any of his gigs.”