Philly Pops taps a tapper for the first time

Listen 2:22

The Philly Pops will present a concert series this weekend, “Uptown Nights,” celebrating the big band nightclub music of the Harlem Renaissance.

For the first time in its 40-year history, the Pops will perform with a tap dancer: Leo Manzari, a 23-year-old triple-threat who can dance, sing, and act.

In addition to performing at the Lincoln Theater as a teenager with his brother John Manzari and Maurice Hines (half of the Hines Brothers act with his late brother, Gregory), Manzari fronts a neo-soul band and has appeared in the Showtime series “Homeland.”

“I studied a lot of the greats: Jimmy Slyde, Bunny Briggs, Sandman Sims, Buster Brown, Gregory Hines,” he said. “All these people come from New York and Harlem, the Cotton Club, the Apollo.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

For Uptown Nights, the Philly Pops tapped trumpeter Byron Stripling to put together a concert of mostly big band jazz from the ‘30s and ‘40s that evokes the Harlem Renaissance.

Tap dancing, especially in white tie and tails, was a show-stopping element of nightclub performances.

“It’s cool,” Manzari said. “There’s a whole debonair, a whole elegance that comes from this style of music.”

Philadelphia contributed the Nicholas Brothers — Fayard and Harold — who became tap dancing stars in New York and Hollywood during that golden era.

In addition to dancing, Manzari will sing “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile,” a song that was a hit for Sammy Davis Jr.

“The idea of a song and dance man, it’s a very traditional way of performing,” he said. “Sammy is one of my biggest idols.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal