46 WBM april 2015 Born in Durham, North Carolina, in 1925, Hicks had two older sisters who taught him to jitterbug, says Bo Bryan, author of Shag: The Legendary Dance of the South. When Hicks was in his early teens, he danced at nightclubs in Durham’s Hayti, an African-American neigh-borhood, and developed a passion for rhythm and blues. In 1943, after serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Hicks moved to Carolina Beach. He danced at Sea Breeze, also known as Freeman’s Beach, a vacation destination for African Americans during racial segregation. He took the bop and jitterbug moves he perfected at Sea Breeze and brought them to white-only dance halls. “The jukebox operators noticed that wherever he went, people fol-lowed,” Bryan says. Lynda Hicks, Chicken’s wife of 30 years, says the jukebox operators were the ones who decided which records went inside jukeboxes. Hicks brought them black R&B records. “They asked him what kind of records he liked and they played them,” Bryan says. “The white kids who came to town that summer heard music they’d never heard before — Big Joe Turner, Lula Reed, The Ink Spots.” Hicks also enjoyed Wynonie Harris and the Mills Brothers. “Chicken was very instrumental in bringing black rhythm and blues into Carolina Beach,” says Brad White, who teaches shag lessons at Carolina Lounge. “Our shag dance today has its roots in black rhythm-and-blues music.” White remembers Hicks for his energy. “He danced until the end of his life — he was in top physical shape,” White says. “He worked until the day he died, building fences.” Lynda Hicks says he earned the nick-name Chicken because of his physique.
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