Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates

 

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Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates

(October 11, 1907 – December 8, 1998)

Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates was an Afro-American entertainer from Fountain Inn, South Carolina.

Bates lost a leg at the age of 12 in a cotton gin accident. He subsequently taught himself to  tap dance with a wooden peg leg. His uncle, Wit, made his crude first “peg leg” after returning home from World War I and finding his nephew handicapped.  Bates was a well-known dancer in his day. He performed on The Ed Sullivan Show approximately 58 times, and had two command performances before the King & Queen of England in 1936 and then again in 1938. He retired from the dancing business in 1996.

He owned and operated the Peg Leg Bates Country Club in Kerhonkson, New York, from 1951 to 1987, along with his wife Alice E. Bates.  This made Bates the first black resort owner in Ulster County in the Catskill Mountains, the famous Borscht Belt of Jewish resorts, hotels, and bungalow colonies.  During a USO hospital tour, he partnered with vaudevillle tap dancer Dixie Roberts, who said “he danced better with one leg than anyone else could with two.”

He was part of the first Louis Armstrong tour of Britain in the mid 50′s.  PBS made a documentary of his life in the 1980s. The South Carolina ETV made a documentary about Bates in the early 2000s.  U.S. Route 209 in Ulster County, New York has been named the “Clayton Peg Leg Bates Memorial Highway”.  He is survived by his only child, daughter, Melodye Bates-Holden and her husband, Preston Holden. They live in Kerhonkson, New York.

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