Harlem’s Jimmy Mordecai Jazz Tap Dancer, During The Harlem Renaissance (Video)

March 30, 2024

Jimmy Mordecai, July 11, 1905 – May 7, 1966, also known as James Mordecai was a Harlem-based jazztap dancer in the 1920s and 1930s.

He featured in the 1929 short film St. Louis Blues (1929 film) starred in the 1930 Vitaphone Varieties musical short film Yarmekraw based on James P. Johnson’s song of the same name.


Mordecai was born in New York City on July 11, 1905. His father was Samuel Mordecai and his mother Edith Wilhelm.

His parents immigrated to the United States from the 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.

He was a member of a popular dance trio, Wells, Mordecai, and Taylor – Dickie Wells (né Richard Wells; 1907–1949) and Ernest Taylor (died 1934) – the trio also was known as the Hot Feet Boys and the Three Klassy Kids, 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.

In 1929, Mordecai began a brief film career, featured opposite Bessie Smith in Dudley Murphy’s short, “St. Louis Blues.” 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,” 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).

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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.

Mordecai died in New York City on May 7, 1966, from a heart attack. He left a wife, Lucille Graves, and four children. Richard (Junie), Lionel (snookie), Joyce and Paul.

James Mordecai is survived by his son Paul Mordecai and his grandchildren Suzanne Mordecai, Lisa Mordecai and Hadrian Mordecai.

He also has surviving grandchildren from his deceased daughter Joyce Ware. Darrylin Ware, Kevin Ware, Gail Ware, Kenneth Ware, Page Ware and Leah Ware.

James Mordecai St. Louis Blues :

In this all-black cast short, legendary blues singer Bessie Smith finds her gambler lover Jimmy messin’ with a pretty, younger woman; he leaves and she sings the blues, with chorus and dancers.

Preview Clip: St. Louis Blues (1929, Bessie Smith, Isabel Washington, Jimmy Mordecai)

Photo credit: 1) Wiki. 2) Youtube.

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