Edith "Baby Edards" Hunt (left)

Edith "Baby Edards" Hunt

Baby Edwards. Photo: Jane LevineEdith "Baby Edwards" Hunt (July 3, 1922 - November 10, 2000)

Effervescent and dynamic, Edith "Baby" Edwards was a great performer. Tap dancer LaVaughn Robinson commented once that "Baby didn't have to do anything to get applause." She just went out on stage, and the crowd would erupt with applause. She loved performing and it was infectious: audiences loved her back. But also, she was a great tap dancer; most of her peers agree that she never got her due.

Born and raised in South Philadelphia, "Baby" was tap dancing and winning amateur contests at age three. She was a star by the time she was five. In the 1920s, she was among the talented local African American child performers who were regularly featured in contests and kiddie shows at such places as the Standard and Lincoln Theaters in Philadelphia. She was the first African American performer to be invited to dance on Philadelphia's Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour, a live radio show broadcast, and she became a regular there. From her mother and a man at the Standard Theater, Edwards began to acquire acrobatic moves; she was known for her flips and splits. (At age 72, she was still doing splits!) She always credited her brother, Harry Edwards, as being her best teacher. He taught other kids to tap dance in their kitchen, and she learned (and helped).

Agents weren't always interested in African American women dancers when they grew up, but Edwards continued to successfully work as a solo act. She occasionally teamed with men as a duo (dancing with "Pops" and with "Taps" Miller), and she appeared widely and in top slots. Still in her teens, she was already closing shows at the Apollo - a major accomplishment. When she was about twenty, she teamed with Willie Joseph, and performed with him, as the duo "Spic and Span," for twenty years. She performed on Broadway in "Swingin' the Dream" in 1939, toured the African American performance circuit, and abroad, appeared on a USO tour in the 1940s, and performed widely. She worked with such artists as Lionel Hampton, King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Bennie Goodman and others.

In the early 1960s, when her mother became ill, Edwards stopped traveling to stay home and care for her. She taught tap dance in Philadelphia Recreation Department programs for sixteen years and performed in local and regional variety shows. She suffered a major heart attack in 1986; this slowed her down, but she continued to dance when possible. Edith "Baby Edwards" Hunt was featured in PFP's production, "Stepping in Time," and in our documentary video and exhibition, both called "Plenty of Good Women Dancers." For more information, see WIP 8:2 (1994) 22-27, 28-31.