Chubby Checker Blames Racism for the Fact That He’s Not as Famous as Beyoncé

On January 17th, the longtime Philadelphian celebrates 55 years of “The Twist” with a concert at Resorts AC. He explains how he pretty much invented dancing, rock-and-roll and jogging, and tells us why you don’t hear his music on the radio these days.

Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Chubby Checker. Ernest is my first name, and Evans is my second name. But I go by Chubby Checker.

I grew up in … Spring Gully, South Carolina. Population 52. We couldn’t go to the same bathrooms as you, so I am very sensitive to anything that’s racist. I see it all the time. And I am not afraid to talk about it.

I came to Philadelphia … when I was about seven years old.

I attended Meredith Elementary School at 5th and Fitzwater, and I am still friends with Mr. Laurer, who was my teacher in third, fourth and fifth grade.

My first job in Philadelphia … was as a shoeshine boy, on 4th and Catherine streets and in Independence Square and at Lenny’s Hot Dog Stand at 5th and South.

The shoeshine would cost five or 10 cents, but I’d get 50 cents or a dollar when I would sing at the same time.

February 15th, I’ll be living in this house for 50 years.

I got my big break … from Mrs. Dick Clark. She saw something special in me.

What people don’t understand about the Twist … is that it’s like the electric light. Once it went on, lights were everywhere. Everybody uses it. I see her, she sees me, and we exploit our sexuality fully dressed. The Twist, the Pony, the Shake, the Hucklebuck — it’s all Chubby Checker. The dance floor is Chubby Checker, and the Twist is what we do to everybody’s music.

I learned how to sing … in church, because of my mother. God bless my mom.

People who call me a one-hit wonder … are sick. I’ve had 34 hits. I had the biggest song of the 1960s. I had the first rock-and-roll song that received a Grammy, when everyone thought rock-and-roll was trashy. The first platinum record given to any artist. I am the only artist with five albums on the top 12 at the same time.

I met the love of my life … in the Philippines in 1964. Chubby Checker was playing, and I saw a girl in a spotted bathing suit and I said, “I’m going to marry that woman.” I didn’t even want to get married, but I couldn’t breathe. That woman was Catharina Lodders, Miss World 1962. She’s from the Netherlands, and we are still married today.

When people found out I was marrying a white woman … I didn’t care. Love ain’t got no color on it.

Dick Clark was … a traditional, establishment man. It was very important to him that everyone like him. Dancing changed on American Bandstand thanks to the Twist, but when he became a superman, he never included me. But then again, without Dick Clark, I wouldn’t be talking to you.

To stay in shape … I do floor exercises. But I used to jog all over the place, 10 or 20 miles a day. When I was jogging in ’69, people looked at me as if I was a very strange person, but by 1985, everybody was doing it.

The greatest Philadelphian … was Ben Franklin. He’s one of my heroes, along with JFK, Genghis Khan, Hannibal and George Washington Carver.

I will retire … never. The worst thing you can be is a lazy person. I am a 1963 split-window Corvette with a 427 in it. Put a Ferrari next to me and I’ll still kick its butt. Or at least keep up.

You don’t hear my songs on the radio these days … because of racism. Black singers come and go, while white brothers get paid for 20 years. Elton John is still making money. How long will John Legend and Pharrell last? I’m surprised Beyoncé has held on for so long. They’re not playing me because it has a powerful significance. Maybe it’s too much power for one man to have.

My tombstone should read … “I miss it already. I had a great time.”

Originally published as “One of Us: Chubby Checker” in the January 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.