Howard “Sandman” Sims was a legend of the Apollo Theater, chasing the bad acts off the stage after crowds boo’ed their performance. He did his Apollo routine for 17 years. Sims got his nickname “Sandman” from tap dancing on sand in his performances.
Howard Sims is a native of Los Angeles, CA. In 1947, he and a friend went to New York in search of the next phase in entertainment.
Even the Sandman had a tough time on the early Apollo stage at the start of his career. He told some contestants that he had to do his act 10 times before he actually made it all the way through. Once he did, he competed and won 25 times in a row. Because of his big wins, the Apollo changed its winner limit to four times.
He was a legend on the stage, teaching famous dancers like Gregory Hines and Ben Vereen. Sims also helped champion boxers Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali build fancy footwork in the ring. Sims himself started off as a boxer, but realized he wouldn’t make it in that profession. His dance steps were sparked from his movement in the rosin box before a boxing match.
Sims was a recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. With the $5,000 he earned from the fellowship, he taught dance classes to children in a parking lot in Harlem. He was known to have his tap shoes in his back pocket at all times. He couldn’t afford to live off his Apollo earnings, so he worked as a mechanic and carpenter on the side, taught dance and owned a cafe.
During his 17 year-run with the Apollo, Sims also served as the stage manager. For nearly another 15 years, he would sporadically appear after the worst acts, shoo’ing the tough-luck performers off the stage followed by his own vaudeville-style performance.
Howard Sims passed away on May 20, 2003. He was 86 years old.
Watch video of Howard “Sandman” Sims above.