Discovered in a South Philadelphia butcher shop, Chubby Checker twisted his way to fame and fortune. Now Chubby wants to make sure no one forgets his contributions to mankind. He's not asking for much. A Nobel Peace Prize and a statue of himself in the co
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JESSICA GRYPHON
"We're gonna twisty twisty twistytill we turn the house down"
--"The Twist," written by Hank Ballard
Chubby Checker has changed the world in such a way that nothing will ever be the same again. He's held his tongue about this incontrovertible fact for 43 long years. But the time has come for him to break his silence.
Chubby has given the world so much and now he wants something in return. Not money. He's got plenty of that. Not a beautiful wife and kids. He's got those, too. Seven cars? Check. A gated estate in the suburbs? Got it.
No, what Chubby Checker wants is R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Capital-R respect. The kind of respect that lasts the ages, the kind that confers immortality on mere mortals.
Chubby wants the kind of respect afforded Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. Because, he says, what he's brought to the world is no less essential to civilization than the telephone and the electric light bulb.
He's not kidding. Laugh if you like, but until you can prove him wrong he's not going to shut up about it.
Chubby, you see, popularized the notion of dancing apart to the beat. This little phrase is Chubby's personal mantra. He utters it incessantly, as if it becomes truer every time he says it. In the years B.C.--Before Chubby--social dancing never strayed far from the rigidly scripted calisthenics of ballroom technique.
All of that changed with a little dance craze called the Twist, which turned into the Hucklebuck, which turned into the Pony, which, when you slowed it down--and Motown's sultry, slow-burn groove saw to that--became the Rosetta Stone of every dance move thrown down by party people from the discotheque to the high school dance to every wedding reception you have ever been to.
The collective booty wiggle of the last four decades is rooted in the gyrations Chubby Checker introduced to the world in 1959. "There is nobody on the planet that dances whose lives I haven't touched, whether they know it or not," he says.
So now Chubby wants his due.
He's not asking for much: A Nobel Peace Prize and a statue of himself in the courtyard of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland will do it.
He will not even consider accepting induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until they build him that statue. Never mind that the Hall of Fame has yet to extend him an offer for induction. And never mind that there are no statues in the courtyard of the Hall of Fame. None. No Elvis statue. No Beatles statue. No Chuck Berry statue. And that's just the way Chubby wants it when they build his statue. Just Chubby and nobody else.
"When somebody else comes along that changes music," he says, "they can have their statue next to me, Chubby Checker, the official king of the music business."
He is saying all this before a fireplace in the cozy confines of his home, a mansion writ small situated on 14 acres in Paoli. His wife, Catharina, Miss World 1962, is upstairs.
He wants to make sure he explains this right, so he's telling it over and over again, veering off in different tangents that all end with the words dancing apart to the beat. And when the writer's tape runs out, he offers a fresh one, because he's not finished yet.
"Before Alexander Graham Bell, no telephone," says Chubby, his husky tenor just a half-step above a whisper. "Before Thomas Edison, no electric lights. Before Henry Ford, no V-8 engine. Before Walt Disney, no animated cartoons. Before Chubby Checker, no dancing apart to the beat. This is Nobel Prize territory."
Repeat, he is not kidding.
PW's Music Issue 2014