Fannie Clay was born in Ripley, TN in 1891, the daughter of former slaves Elen Gilliland Clay and Hugh Clay. In 1910 she graduated from Lauderdale County Training School and relocated to Memphis, TN with her family. Fannie soon relocated to Chicago, Illinois where she met Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in an ice cream parlor. They were married January 27, 1922. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was famous for being a professional tap dancer and actor of stage and film. He got his start dancing in local bars as a child. Bojangles was most famous for the series of movies he starred in alongside Shirley Temple. He was the first African-American to appear on film dancing alongside a White girl, Shirley Temple. During this time his wife, Fannie Clay, worked as his business manager. She is credited as playing a significant role in his success by working behind the scenes. Bill Bojangles affectionately nicknamed her “Lil Bo”. Unfortunately, they divorced June 25, 1943 due to his gambling, womanizing, and Fannie’s desire to have him slow down due to his heart condition. When they divorced Fannie is quoted as having said they “agreed to disagree and would still remain the best of friends”. In the 2001 movie titled “Bojangles” Bojangles was played by Gregory Hines and Fannie Clay was played by Kimberly Elise.

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Fannie Clay

Source:  Image –  Google Images Archive

Source: Greenfield, Phil. “‘Mr. Bojangles’ Is Well-acted History Play Recounts Vaudeville Days.” Baltimore Sun. 11 June 1993. Web. 18 May 2012.

Source: Mancini, Ralph. “Day Of Remembrance For Tap Dance Pioneer.” Times Newsweekly. 24 May 2007. Web. 18 May 2012. <2007/052407/NewFiles/ROBINSON.html>.

– Tiffany