The city of Myrtle Beach kicks off its 2011 slate of Mayfest celebrations this weekend with the second-annual Beach Music Festival Saturday.
The event will be a day-long a celebration of the area’s richest musical heritage, Carolina Beach music, as well as a chance for folks to partake in the official state dance, the Shag.
However, this year’s festival will feature a headlining act that well-known for a certain other dance move.
That’s right, Chubby Checker, famous for “The Twist,” will perform the second annual music festival between Eighth and Ninth Avenues North in the heart of Myrtle Beach.
Joining him are five other musical acts as well as numerous food vendors, a beer garden and activities for the younger boogieing crowd. The all-day festival is open to the public and free of admission. We caught up with the musical legend recently to talk about his S.C. roots, his longevity and of course the dance that made him famous:
You were born in S.C. but you grew up south of Philly. Do you still resonate with the southern culture?
I left Carolina when I was 8 years old, but the best part of my life was really there in South Carolina.
I always tell the people that I was born in Spring Gulley, population of 52!
My dad came out of the Army when I was about 8 years old and he was a hard worker. He used to make me plow behind a mule as a young kid. He even made me stand on Hwy. 544 and wait for the ice man — he came with a 1,000 lbs. of ice — and I’d chip off 100 lbs. and take to it neighbors ice boxes.
Even getting into showbiz: I went to Georgetown to see Earnest Tubb the country musician who really sparked my interest.
2nd Annual Beach Music Festival lineup:
- Craig Woolard | 11 a.m.-12 p.m.
- Atlantic Groove | 12:15-1:30 p.m.
- The Catalinas | 2-3 p.m.
- Too Tight | 3:30-4:30 p.m.
- The Embers | 5-6 p.m.
- Chubby Checker | 6:30-8 p.m.
- The Spinners | 8:30-10 p.m.
Who else was a big musical inspiration to you?
I mean, after I saw Sugar Child Robinson perform, that was it. I was very young but I knew that I was going to be in showbiz. I had no idea it was going to be like this, but I dreamt about being on stage all my life.
How did you get your nickname?
I guess I was 11-years old and I was working on Ninth Street in Philly in this Italian market. I got a job at a produce market because my dad would never let me sit at home.
And so, I’m working at fruit market. I told him my name was Ernest, and he looked at me and said “I don’t like that name. I’m going to call you Chubby.” And I was a bit chubby at the time, and I didn’t like that name, but he said “Listen you S.O.B. …Do you like working here? I’m going to call you Chubby then.”
(Later, Dick Clark would coin his nickname Checker.)
In 1959, when you recorded the No. 1 hit “The Twist,” how old were you?
I was 18 when I recorded it. It all happened so fast. The first record before “The Twist” was when I was in 11th grade. I toured around South Carolina on a summer vacation and they introduced me as “Chubby Checker, emcee.”
When did you know it was a hit?
I started campaigning that in 1959 and I was still in high school.
That song began being played on the radio, and that’s when I really knew we had made a hit. Not only a hit, but we changed the world.
I like to say we created the light bulb, because everybody used it (the twist dance) and no one even thought about it. Think about it, the only time you ever got to see a girl is when she stood up to go to the bathroom. With the Twist, you got to see her and all she’s got.
I’d say it was the biggest event in the music business at that time.
What are you looking forward to about headlining the Beach Music Festival?
Our show is going to destroy them. We come in and kill, and leave. Our show has kept me in business. It’s not the on-air play, I don’t get that. That show has kept me where we are today.
I can back up my big fat mouth that our show is outstanding. It shows why we are so successful and it shows why we are still here.
Other than perform, what kind of things do you do while you’re here?
I am really there in Myrtle Beach at all times. I am excited. Every interview, I talk about South Carolina. Everywhere I go I talk about South Carolina. If you look at my food products, some of them are called Spring Gully brand.
But we’re busy people. We’re flying in from Montreal. The day before we get there, we’re performing there. We’ll be in Myrtle Beach for the show, and then drive to Atlanta and fly back to Canada. We were in Disney World celebrating 50 years of “The Twist” earlier this year.
Who surprised or impressed you with their dance of the twist?
Zsa-Zsa Gabor did the twist and they took pictures. She’s the reason that the song became famous. I never forget who helped me out along the way. I mean, when a woman like Zsa-Zsa does the twist, it was really something to see.
Can you imagine? That woman doing the twist?
And then Jackie Kennedy at the Peppermint Lounge was doing it with her sister with the secret service present. It wasn’t a big deal, but I appreciated her for it.
The twist is like the moon. It’s always been there, we just discovered it. It’s like America. The kids of the inner-city made up a move to the song, and they let me sing it because I was perfect for it. We went out and did this thing, campaigned it because there was no widespread media, and it caught on. The rest is history.
Matt Montgomery is the Entertainment Editor for the Myrtle Beach Herald and VISIT! Visitors' Guide. See his work weekly at www.myrtlebeachherald.com.