Maurice Hines, Tap Dance Icon, Dies at 80

Hines and his younger brother Gregory had careers that mirrored each other in the 1980s and 1990s.

Charles Randolph Wright and Maurice Hines
Maurice Hines
(© David Gordon)

Tony-nominated tap dance legend Maurice Hines Jr. has died at the age of 80, according to reports from friends and family, including Debbie Allen.

Born in 1943 in New York City, Hines began studying the art of tap at the age of five at the Henry LeTang Dance Studio. Recognizing his talent, LeTang began arranging specialty numbers for Hines and his younger brother, Gregory. Eventually their father, Maurice Hines Sr., joined his sons on the performance circuit throughout New York, Las Vegas, and Europe. Hines, Hines & Dad, as their act was called, was seen regularly on The Pearl Bailey Show and The Tonight Show, among other programs.

Hines attributed his young success to the vision of his mother. “She wanted something more for her sons, never knowing that it would be in show business,” he told TheaterMania in 2013. “But once she saw that, she nurtured it in a very loving way. If you don’t do it through love, then it becomes a job, and she didn’t want that for us as babies.”

He made his Broadway debut in 1954 in The Girl in the Pink Tights. He also appeared on Broadway in Eubie!Sophisticated Ladies, Bring Back Birdie, and Uptown…It’s Hot!, for which he earned a Tony nomination. He also directed, choreographed, and conceived that show, as well as the Earth, Wind & Fire/The Red Shoes mashup Hot Feet. He toured with Debbie Allen, Leslie Uggams, and Richard Roundtree in Guys and Dolls, where he played Nathan Detroit. He staged the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in 1990, becoming the first African-American to direct at the famed venue.

On screen, Hines starred with his brother in the Francis Ford Coppola film The Cotton Club, playing a tap dance double-act modeled on the Nicholas Brothers. The film marked the last time Maurice and Gregory performed together; they would subsequently stop speaking for well over a decade, until their mother, Alma, became ill and passed away. In the intervening years, their careers would nonetheless intertwine: Maurice toured in Jelly’s Last Jam, the show that earned Gregory a Tony Award on Broadway.

Hines dedicated his final years to paying tribute to Gregory and his influence on the world of tap dance in the show Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Through Life, which has been seen around the country and off-Broadway at New World Stages. “I was reading an article about tap and they failed to mention my brother,” he told TheaterMania. “I was embarrassed by it and upset. So as I was doing my one-man show then, which was more of a concert, I would talk more about Gregory and what he did. It evolved out of that.”

In addition to this stage retrospective, Hines was the subject of the documentary Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back, which is currently available for rental on demand.

Hines had celebrated his milestone birthday on December 13.