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Interview: Chubby Checker brings back party mood of '50s and '60s in PBS show

Chubby Checker.
Chubby Checker.
Courtesy TJL Productions. Used by permission.

Dancing is pretty much taken for granted in the music of today. But back in the '50s, it was in baby steps with moves that were all over the map. That is until Chubby Checker came along with “The Twist,” which he said, in a recent phone interview, was the real birth of rock 'n' roll dancing.

Chubby Checker
Courtesy of TJL Productions - used by permission.

“We created the mold,” he said in a phone interview. “Dancing is as old as my career.” Checker will co-host “My Music: ‘50s & ‘60s Party Songs” with TJ Lubinsky, which premieres on PBS stations nationwide May 31. (Check local listings as air times will vary around the country.)

Lubinsky said getting together with Checker was something he'd wanted to do for a while. “Basically, I had always wanted to work with Chubby Checker for the last 20 years, but it wasn't the right time. I've always wanted to celebrate what his music meant. When people were doing the Twist, it was almost a safe way of making love.”

The singer also pointed out that Billboard late last year noted that “The Twist” is still the all-time top song on the Billboard Hot 100. In fact, the song has an incredible chart history. It debuted on the chart on Aug. 1, 1960, started a worldwide dance craze and hit #1. It returned to the chart again on Nov. 13, 1961, and hit the top spot again.

Both it and “White Christmas” accomplished the very rare feat of returning to the charts in the #1 position. It was back on the chart in 1988 in a remake version with the Fat Boys where it peaked at #16.

“My Music: ‘50s & ‘60s Party Songs” will be the first episode of the popular My Music series to showcase the upbeat sounds played at parties during the magic baby-boomer era, beginning with the explosion of Checker’s “The Twist” and ending with the frat-rock sounds of The Kingsmen’s Louie, Louie. These otherwise lost performances have been remastered by TJL, providing viewers with a never-before-seen look and sound of these songs from the past.

Checker and Lubinsky will guide viewers through the sounds of the late ‘50s and into the late ‘60s. The show will feature music by artists including Bill Haley and the Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Bobby Darin, Little Richard. Also featured will be special interviews with members of Danny & The Juniors and The Dovells.

Lubinsky says the programs have been popular for several reasons. “They are a time machine to our greatest memories,” he said in a phone interview. “There's nothing like great party songs to take away the stress of life. That's what this particular show is like and also the CD set that goes along with it.”

The companion CD set includes original hit recordings from both the '50 and '60s. Artists included will be Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Chuck Berry, The Four Seasons, The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Tommy James & The Shondells, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, Wilson Pickett, Van Morrison, The 5th Dimension, The Isley Brothers, Lesley Gore, Sly & The Family Stone, The Kingsmen, Four Tops and more.

Lubinsky said that future “My Music” plans include his first '80s show planned in a couple of years. “Today that nostalgia for anyone who's 45 plus,” he said.