Williamsburg County unveils marker to honor birthplace of singer Chubby Checker

Chubby Checker lived in Spring Gulley near Andrews until he was six years old.
Chubby Checker, whose real name is Ernest Evans, was born in the Spring Gulley community, about six miles from the town of Andrews.
Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 11:32 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 17, 2022 at 2:56 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Chubby Checker will be honored in his birth town in Williamsburg County over the weekend!

Chubby Checker, whose real name is Ernest Evans, was born in the Spring Gulley community, about six miles from the town of Andrews.

His family lived there until he was about six, and then they moved to Philadelphia. Checker is best known for his remake of the song,’ The Twist.’ Checker’s version, along with the dance, made the song a number-one hit in 1960. His success helped Black performers gain new respect in the rock and roll music business.

Williamsburg County will unveil a marker at 1 p.m. Saturday on Highway 521 near Steadfast Road.

A news release details the start and success of Checker’s musical career.

In 1959, Rock and Roll was changing American popular culture. Music inspired by white and Black spirituals and the jazz and blues legacy of Black performers of the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s had captured the nation’s youth and was increasingly dominant on radio, television and film. Despite its origins largely with Black performers, the stars were almost all white. Elvis Pressley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Bo Didley, Bill Haley and others were the faces of the new, revolutionary music. Only a few Black performers like Chuck Berry and Little Richard were prominent.

All of that changed in 1959 when an unknown native of the Spring Gulley community of Williamsburg County, Ernest Evans, was tapped to do a remake of The Twist, a number originally performed by another Black performer, Hank Ballard. Evans took the stage name, “Chubby Checker,” and he took the country down an entirely new path with his version of the song and the dance he introduced. Rock and Roll was never the same and Black performers were no longer relegated to the back of the Rock and Roll bus.

Ernest Evans was born on October 3, 1941, the son of Raymond and Eartle “Eartie” Evans, in a house on Steadfast Road between Trio and where it intersects with Highway 521. He lived there until 1947, when his parents moved the family, including two brothers, to Philadelphia, joining the long progress of migration out of Williamsburg’s population to the north and the west.

They lived in the projects of South Philadelphia and that is where Ernest Evans grew up. His mother took him to see two performances that inspired him to take up music, one by Sugar Child Robinson and one by country music star, Ernest Tubb. When he was only 11, he formed a street corner harmony group – a forecast of things to come.

He studied piano and could play some by the time he entered South Philadelphia High School. It was there he met and befriended Fabian Forte who was known later simply as “Fabian” in his singing and acting career. Ernest took on after-school jobs at the Produce Market and at Fresh Farm Poultry on 9th Street. His boss at the Produce Market gave him the nickname “Chubby” and his boss at Fresh Farm Poultry gave him much more – an introduction to Dick Clark. At Fresh Farm, his boss showed off his singing talent to his customers, but more importantly, he arranged for Chubby to do a private recording, a Yuletide novelty recording of several songs in which Chubby did impersonations of famous singers.

Dick Clark was impressed and sent the record out to friends as Christmas presents in 1958. This resulted directly in Chubby performing “The Class” on Clark’s show “American Bandstand” and which became his first hit recording in 1959.

Cameo-Parkway records asked Chubby to perform a song already released by Hank Ballard but, as the company told Chubby, “I think we can put a little dance to it, and then you can show people how it’s done.” Chubby agreed. The song was “The Twist.” Chubby recorded it in June and July 1960 in the sixth-floor office of Cameo at 1405 Locust Street in Philadelphia.

Shortly after Cameo released Chubby’s single, Dick Clark booked him on his prime-time show, “The Dick Clark Show” on August 6, 1960. At that moment, the country was introduced to the boy from Spring Gully, now known as Chubby Checker and he introduced the country to The Twist, a dance that completely changed how Americans danced to popular music. The song quickly made it to the top 40 list and two weeks later, it replaced Elvis Presley at number 1.

“The Twist” was not only the #1 song but it introduced the concept of “dancing apart to the beat”. Over the next few years, endless songs incorporating “The Twist” into its name sprang up such as “Peppermint Twist,” “Twist and Shout,” and “Twistin’ the Night Away”. In addition, each new song brought a new dance involving “dancing apart to the beat” such as “The Jerk”, “The Hully Gully”, “The Boogaloo” and “The Shake.”

At the forefront was Chubby with “The Fly,” “The Pony,” and “The Hucklebuck.” A spin off, “Let’s Twist Again” also made it to the number 1 slot in the summer of 1961. Chubby’s original recording of “The Twist” was rereleased in the fall of 1961 and by January 1962, it regained first place on the billboard charts, the first song ever to do so. All toll, “The Twist” stayed in the top 40 for nine months. Also in 1962, magazines reported that at parties hosted at the White House by John and Jackie Kennedy, people were dancing the Twist. This made it clear that Chubby Checker had changed American rock and roll profoundly.