“I was 16 years old, when I first met Dick,' Chubby Checker said on Wednesday, shortly after he found out that his friend of over 50 years had died. “It was about two years before we did ’The Twist.” I was in the studio with him. He was doing a Christmas project, and I was at the piano doing a Fats Domino impression. I was Ernest” - Ernest Evans, his real name - “but I was also called Chubby at the time. And Dick’s wife came up with my name. Chubby became Chubby Checker.”
Checker first went on American Bandstand with his song “The Class,” and appeared again and many times more with “The Twist” a song that had previously been recorded by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, but which became a massive hit for Checker, thanks in no small part to the exposure Clark gave it on Bandstand.
Together, Checker says, he and Clark changed the way people danced.
“History was made the day Chubby Checker went on Bandstand with ‘The Twist’,” says Checker. “Because with “The Twist,” you were looking at your girl, and she was looking at you. And “The Twist” did that. And it was all because of Dick Clark."
American Bandstand was the forerunner of all the music shows on TV that followed it, Checker says, from Soul Train to MTV.
“What happened on his show is still going on everywhere in the world. When somebody came on and mimed their record on TV, that was a video. And dancing as we know it today is because of the way they danced on American Bandstand.
“He was the man who played the music, and the people who heard the music danced to the music. The king of the deejays died today, and his name was Dick Clark.”
Trying to make it as a singer in the Philadelphia at that time, Checker says, there was no greater goal than getting on Bandstand.
“Being on Bandstand was like getting a Nobel Prize ,” he says. “From 3 o’clock in the afternoon until 5:30, nobody was on the street. They were watching Bandstand. Can you imagine that?”
After “The Twist,” Checker had another enormous hit with “Let’s Twist Again,” again due largely to performing it on Bandstand. That song, which was written by Kal Mann and Dave Appell, was awarded a Grammy for Best Rock & Roll Recording in 1962, the first time that particular trophy was given out.
“The man is permanently engraved in my life,” Checker, who’s 70, says. “I always told him, ‘Your fame is my fame.'”
The secret to Clark’s success, Checkers says, was “his persona. His attitude. I believe that everyone was very comfortable when they were around him. Everybody could get excited around him because he was so comfortable. That’s why he was so successful.”
In the years when Clark was kingmaker before Bandstand moved to Los Angeles in 1964, Checker says, “American Bandstand was Philadelphia, and Philadelphia was music. There was no other place on the planet. Ed Sullivan had a little taste. But it was really 46th and Market Street, and that was it. And Philadelphia should be proud.”
“The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland, because of Alan Freed, and he did a lot of things for the black kids. The black kids gave us rock and roll. And Alan Freed made sure people heard their music. It’s a great tribute to him that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland. What he did was great, but not as great as Dick Clark. He was the first. He was the George Washington of the disc jockeys. It’s a special day.”