Maurice Hines, 1943–2023, Had Something Extra

January 19, 2024

Maurice Hines, a dazzling member of tap dance and Broadway royalty, died on December 29, 2023, two weeks after his 80th birthday.

If you were fortunate enough to meet the dapper dancer, actor, and singer—even if only briefly—Hines had a way of making you feel like you were a star in your own right. Family and friends echoed that sentiment on social media and at a private memorial service earlier this month in New Jersey.

“I was 21 and new to NYC when I met the legendary Maurice Hines,” wrote director, producer and screenwriter Charles Randolph-Wright—who directed Hines at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, on Facebook. “I couldn’t believe that he was even talking to me. He immediately became a mentor to me, and so many others. He gave us permission to dance with zero boundaries, and to live our lives the same way.”

Born on December 13, 1943, in New York City, Maurice began dancing at age 5 with his then–3-year-old younger brother, Gregory. Performing as the Hines Kids, Maurice and Gregory were hailed as the new Nicholas Brothers. They wowed audiences at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and made their Broadway debut in the 1954 musical The Girl in Pink Tights, starring French ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire.

The Hines brothers in the late 1950s. Courtesy CINQUA.

As they matured, they were known as the Hines Brothers, and then—joined by their father, Maurice Hines Sr., on drums—as Hines, Hines and Dad. In the 1960s, they toured Europe, performed in Las Vegas with Ella Fitzgerald, and were regulars on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” a feat for African American entertainers at that time.

When the family act broke up in 1973, Gregory moved to California to pursue music and Maurice found his place in musical theater. In 1978, Maurice joined the Broadway cast of Eubie!, a tribute to composer Eubie Blake—and insisted the producers also hire Gregory.

To expand his repertoire beyond tap, Maurice studied ballet, African, and modern, and retrained his body by working with jazz choreographer Frank Hatchett. The two later founded the Hines-Hatchett dance studio, which went on to become Broadway Dance Center.  

And he got the chance to show off his 6 o’clock high kicks when he traded places with Gregory as leading man in Sophisticated Ladies in 1981.

Hines in an undated press photo. Courtesy CINQUA.

“Everyone expected me to dance like Gregory, but he told the chorus, ‘Get ready. Maurice is on another level. Tempos will be faster!’ ” Maurice told Dance Magazine.

With Balletap USA, a dance fusion troupe he formed in 1983 with Mercedes Ellington, Maurice continued to push boundaries and find his voice as a choreographer. In 1986 he created, directed, choreographed, and starred in the Broadway show Uptown…It’s Hot!, for which he received a Tony Award nod for Best Actor in a Musical.

The highlight of his career, however, was reuniting with Gregory in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 film The Cotton Club, where art imitated life as they played a loving but bickering tap dance brother duo.

“To be with Gregory again was like heaven,” he said in John Carluccio’s 2019 biopic, Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back. Executive-produced by Debbie Allen and Randolph-Wright, the award-winning documentary followed Maurice while he was in his 70s and still touring and inspiring young dancers.

Duane Lee Holland Jr.—a featured dancer and assistant choreographer for Maurice’s second Broadway musical, 2006’s Hot Feet—learned firsthand that honing young talent was one of Maurice’s greatest gifts.

“As a mentor, Maurice taught me to stay true to myself, and to my artistry,” Holland wrote in an email. “He cultivated a sense of class, integrity, fearlessness, and passion that influenced me as a man, artist, and educator. As a choreographer, he loved to feature the innovation, brilliance, and funkiness of the continuum of Black American dance.”

Maurice was predeceased by Gregory, who died in 2003 of cancer. His survivors include Cheryl Davis, his adopted daughter with former partner Silas Davis.

“Uncle Maurice was the best dad a girl could have,” Cheryl said at the memorial service. “I have so much respect for [him] as a performer.”