How the Twist Worked

By: Julia Layton

Chubby Checker and the Twist

The King of the Twist himself, Chubby Checker, demonstrating his expertise.
The King of the Twist himself, Chubby Checker, demonstrating his expertise.
Harry Hammond/V&A Images/Getty Images

The stage name, they say, is rooted in a childhood nickname, "Chubby," combined with an observation by Dick Clark's wife that Ernest looked like a chubby Fats Domino (checkers and dominoes -- get it?) [sources: ChubbyChecker, Jourdan].

But the song that made Chubby Checker a star was actually a cover; "The Twist" was first performed by a group called Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, but it didn't really take off. In 1959, Chubby recorded it -- and again, it didn't make much of an impact. His producers slotted it to be a B-side [source: ChubbyChecker].


That changed the following year, when the song was released as a single and Checker performed "The Twist" on Dick Clark's pop-music show "American Bandstand." With that coveted exposure (and all those pretty girls shaking their hips), the song, the dance and Chubby Checker took the world by storm.

Chubby Checker became an overnight sensation, performing his hit song nonstop in the early '60s and going on to record hit song after hit song, often accompanied by signature dances. Many of his follow-up hits also had "Twist" in the title, most notably "Let's Twist Again," which was nearly as big a hit as Checker's original break-out song.

"The Twist" hit No. 1 on the Billboard Charts in September 1960, and stayed there for a week. Still, impressive as a run at No. 1 is, that's not the biggest claim to fame for the song and dance …