Jeni LeGon of Vancouver, Canada is a tap dancing legend and the former dance partner of Bill Robinson, Fred Astaire and Fats Waller. LeGon was a pioneer in tap dancing and perhaps the first famous black female dancing soloist. Unlike the many ladies of the stage, LeGon wore loose pants and low-heeled shoes as opposed to skirts and dresses. LeGon performed lead in film productions and all over the country, including in Los Angeles, London and New York. She was a beloved performer for the U.S. Army.
LeGon was born in 1916. She learned to tap dance on the streets of south side Chicago with local bands and musicians. She worked to perfect her style, which included acrobatics and rhythm dancing. By the time she was 16 years old, LeGon was dancing on a chorus line that was accompanied by the Count Basie Orchestra. Shortly after she toured with the Whitman Sisters, which was a company owned and operated by women.
In 1934, LeGon was a dancer in the critically-acclaimed production of Stormy Weather. In 1935, she landed a role in the MGM musical, Hooray for Love with Bill Robinson. A year later, she performed in the London production of C.B. Cochran’s At Home Abroad.
In 2005, LeGon was labeled a pioneer of Black Hollywood by People magazine in 2005. She overcame racism in her field, both on and off the set. She remembered being snubbed by Fred Astaire in 1947, whom she had performed with a decade before she was cast as a maid in one of his productions; Astaire did not acknowledge LeGon’s presence on the set, which left her highly upset.
LeGon has been recognized by the American Tap Dance Association. In 1999, she was part of a documentary called Living in a Great Big Way by Grant Greshuck. In 2006, she was also honored by the National Congress of Black Women.
Jeni LeGron passed away on Friday, December 7, 2012 at age 96 in Vancouver, Canada.