Chubby Checker, the man credited with inventing “The Twist,” was born Ernest Evans in Spring Gully, South Carolina. He moved to Philadelphia with his parents and two brothers and attended South Philadelphia High School. Evans aspired to become a performer from a young age and eventually caught a small break after graduating from high school making novelty records that were impressions of singers like Elvis Presley and Fats Domino.
Evans’ career took off when he met Barbara Clark, wife of American Bandstand host, Dick Clark. Barbara Clark is credited with giving young Evans his full stage name. He’d picked up the nickname ‘Chubby’ while working in a Philadelphia poultry market. When Barbara Clark met him he was working on his Fats Domino impression at the recording studio. She said “You’re Chubby Checker, like Fats Domino.” The name stuck.
With Barbara Clark’s help, Evans got a job recording a Christmas greeting card for Dick Clark’s associates. This record spawned another called “The Class,” which contained impressions of famous singers. It was a hit. Unfortunately, Chubby Checker fell into obscurity and his record label was ready to drop him.
Checker was persuaded to redo “The Twist,” a 1959 hit by Hank Ballard. Although the song was popular with American youth, producers at American Bandstand felt that Ballard, who looked older than his actual age, was not the right face for the show. Checker was young and could do a reasonable impression of Ballard’s voice. He got the job.
Chubby Checker’s version of “The Twist,” released in the summer of 1960, became popular as a dance as well. It was simple and supported an open dancing format increasingly popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s where couples moved together but did not touch. Dick Clark particularly liked this style of dancing for his popular afternoon television show.
Between 1960 and 1962 the dance and song took the United States, and then the world, by storm. Chubby Checker was invited for an entire week of American Bandstand performances. The song hit top of the Billboard top 100 in 1960 and a spin-off song, “Let’s Twist again” repeated the success the following summer.
Chubby Checker recorded other songs during the rest of the decade but none proved as popular as “The Twist.” His signature song made musical history. Checker was the only artist to have five albums in the top 12 at the same time; the only artist to ever have a song on the charts at #1 on two separate times; and the only artist to ever have nine double-sided hits. Almost all of this early work featured some version of “The Twist.” The song also popularized a new style of couples dancing that continues to be influential to this day.