Jimmy Mordecai

Jimmy Mordecai also known as James Mordecai was a Harlem-based jazz tap dancer[1] in the 1920s and 1930s. James Mordecai was born in New York City in 1905. His father was Samuel Mordecai and his mother Sara Cunningham immigrated into these United States from British West Indies in 1901 through Cuba. He was in the cast of a 1924 touring show called "Cotton Land," with music by James P. Johnson.[2] He was a member of a popular dance trio, Wells, Mordecai and Taylor (with Dickie Wells and Ernest Taylor -- the trio also was known as the Hot Feet Boys and the Three Klassy Kids[3]), with whom he performed at the Cotton Club in 1930 with a Duke Ellington revue called "Brown Sugar (Sweet But Unrefined)." In that revue, he danced with Cora LaRedd, a renowned tap dancer active at the time.[4]

In 1929, Mordecai began a brief film career, featured opposite Bessie Smith in Dudley Murphy's short, "St. Louis Blues." Basically a vehicle for Smith (her only known film appearance) and for the music of W.C. Handy and the bandleader James P. Johnson, the film featured Mordecai as "Jimmy the Pimp," Smith's two-timing lover. Mordecai also played the lead role in Murray Roth's 1930 film "Yamekraw,"[5] and a minor role in Dudley Murphy's 1933 "The Emperor Jones," which starred Paul Robeson.

By 1936, Mordecai was the host and master of ceremonies at The Theatrical Grill, a Harlem nightclub on West 134th Street managed by Dickie Wells (Mordecai's former dancing partner and a notorious Harlem gigolo -- not to be confused with jazz trombonist Dicky Wells).

A Jimmie Mordecai was cited, along with one Arizona Coffman, in a February 15, 1943 conviction in the City Magistrates Court of the City of New York, for selling liquor without a license from the basement of a Harlem establishment called the Frog Club, but it is unclear that this is the same Jimmy Mordecai.


  1. Hill, Constance Valis (2009). Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History. Oxford University Press. p. 93. ISBN 9780199745890.
  2. Peterson, Bernad L., Jr. (1993). A Century of Musicals in Black and White: An Encyclopedia of Musical Stage Works, by, about, or Involving African-Americans. Greenwood Press. p. 90. ISBN 0313266573.
  3. Frank, Rusty E. (1990). Tap! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories, 1900-1955. Da Capo Press. p. 300. ISBN 0306806355.
  4. Sampson, Henry T. (2014). Blacks in Blackface: A Sourcebook on Early Black Musical Shows. Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 896. ISBN 9780810883505.
  5. Cripps, Thomas (1993). Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900 to 1942. Oxford University Press. p. 231. ISBN 0195021304.
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