Black History is Skate History

Curated from my 2019 Instagram series@WCrollerskate

This #BlackHistoryMonth we’ll be taking a look at the African-American pioneers and champions of modern popular skating! These are the people that brought the style and the flavor to traditional roller skating, and made it COOL. As roller skate dancing regains popularity, it’s important to honor its cultural origins and to share these stories as they are often overlooked by the media. Here are a few notable names and faces as a starting point. (Full descriptions after the photo gallery.)

Bill “Jamma” Butler
This is no ordinary skater. When people were rolling to organ music in the 40’s, Bill Butler is the man that brought the funk and jazz to skating in Detroit and then most famously in New York. His artistry, skill and style inspired many of the popular incarnations of roller skate dance that exist today.

Michael Johnson
A protege of Bill Butler and a star in his own right. The late Michael Johnson is probably best known for being Bow Wow’s skate double in “Roll Bounce.” Spend some time on YouTube searching for some of his performances, you won’t be sorry.

Calvin Small – Chicago
He is one of the original creators of the moves and style that would come to be known as the popular “JB Style”

Empire Roller Rink, Brooklyn, NewYork
Famously known as the birthplace of “Roller Disco.” The pioneers of the region’s skate style would change the focus of the music from the melody, to the GROOVE. Dancing on skates would never be the same! Unfortunately, Empire closed it’s doors after 66 years in 2007 and the building now sits dormant as a storage facility.

Edna Davoll – East Coast Matriarch
Edna Davoll caught the attention of the media after she went viral roller skating on her 81st birthday, but she has been a main staple of the East Coast skate community for decades. Known as the matriarch of the East Coast skate community, Edna started skating at 45 and is still rolling strong into her 80’s! She continues to inspire us all!

“Rockin” Richard Houston
A world-renowned skater, retired postman and Air Force vet out of Detroit. He just released a book entitled “The Motown Sound on Wheels”, chronicling the pioneering skate community and his life in the rinks of Detroit and beyond. “Rockin” Richard Houston gave the Gong Show a taste of that #Detroit seasoning back in the 1970’s. Watch Richard dazzle the judges to unanimous perfect 10 scores!

David Miles Jr. – San Francisco’s Godfather of Roller Skating
While rinks are closing down across America, San Francisco’s Godfather of Skate, David Miles Jr. finds new ways to bring skating to the people. Whether indoors or outdoors, D has worked tirelessly with local community leaders for 40 years to make sure skaters have a place to skate and a funky good time doing it!

Before the Church of 8 Wheels dominated the San Francisco weekend nightlife, David Miles was a force for skaters outdoors at Golden Gate Park, heading up the Skate Patrol to help others. He also stood up to local government when the community tried to push skaters out and tried to regulate their music, etc. He helped get smooth, recreational pavement installed and a safe, traffic-free environment for skaters. Although we have lost many of our rinks, San Francisco skaters can still enjoy a healthy lifestyle through roller skating thanks to the tireless advocacy work of David Miles Jr.

DJ “Big Bob” Clayton
New York’s legendary skate DJ. Starting in 1980, Clayton would provide the groove for thousands of roller skaters at Empire until its closure in 2007. Clayton still DJ’s for adult skate jams across the country. One of the best to EVER do it.

Skateland U.S.A. Compton
The roller rink that helped launched the careers of legendary R&B/Hip-Hop acts like N.W.A., Eric B and Rakim, Queen Latifah, and New Edition. Skateland USA Compton was a refuge for many young people as well as an important concert venue opportunity for hip-hop when other venues pushed it away.

READ: The Roller Rink Origins of N.W.A. – New York Times, August, 2015

Richard Humphrey “Rollerdance Man”
Known as the “Father of Rollerdance.” Richard is a renowned instructor, performer and inventor, featured on TV and in print. Richard choreographed many of the classic line dance steps that are still popular today. He has wowed thousands of spectators in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with his original skate crew, The Golden Rollers and even by himself still today!! He also partnered with Riedell to create the innovative “No Strings Attached” skate boot. He continues to teach weekly classes in San Francisco.

Joi Loftin “Joi’s Skate-a-Thon”
If you’ve been roller skating for long, you know that the “Super Bowl” of annual skate parties is “Joi’s Skate-a-thon” in Atlanta, Georgia. Held annually since 1995, (with the exception of 2020, due to Co-vid19) Skate-a-thon is the place to be to see the best roller skaters from all over the world! I don’t know the entire origin story of this incredible and historic event, but Joi is included here as a skate legend because the work it takes to put this event on year after year is nothing short of super-heroic, and the experiences I’ve had there are priceless. Visit: www.joisk8athon.com


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