Alice’s Story

Alice Barker loved to dance from the moment she was born. As she says, dancing was all she ever wanted to do. She was born in Chicago, and left for New York City to become a dancer in her mid 20’s—which was quite a bold move for a woman in her time.

For her entire career she worked as a chorus line dancer in New York City, on Broadway and during the Harlem Renaissance of the the 1930s and 40s. She danced at clubs such as The Apollo, Cotton Club, and Zanzibar Club, where she was part of a legendary group known as the Zanzibeauts.

The Zanzibeauts — Alice is third from the left.

The Zanzibeauts, Alice is third from the right.

She also danced in numerous movies, commercials and TV shows with legends including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Gene Kelly,  and a young Frank Sinatra.

The short musical films we found of Alice are called “soundies,” and they were among the first films that used sound. Typically a soundie would be shot in a popular night club, and feature whatever the hot performer or song was at the time. The films would be distributed in jukebox-like devices that were placed in bars, clubs and racetracks, where people could watch them for a coin.

Given this, it makes sense that Alice would never have seen any of the soundies she performed in back in the day. She saw herself on TV a handful of occasions when she was in a commercial or featured on a show, but this was way before there was any way to keep a recording of a broadcast for herself!

Alice was married twice, and never had any children. She stayed close with many of her dancing friends throughout her life and into her senior years. However an illness and prolonged hospitalization, combined with her relocation to a nursing home, lead to her losing touch with them. Unfortunately, it was simply a time and an age in life when it was a lot easier for people to lose track of each other.

Moreover, all of her photographs and memorabilia from her career had been in the lost in her multiple moves. When we met Alice, she’d not seen any images, nor been able to share anything more than her stories, in over 10 years.

Hopefully with this backstory, the depth of the impact seeing her films had on her can be appreciated even more. The attention and appreciation she received since then—from those around her every day, to people from around the country and the world—revitalized her and had her positively glowing. Always a bright spirit, she truly became a new woman.

As an added bonus of her new fame, Alice was able to reconnect with some of her dancer friends and their children, who grew up with Alice around. She had a phone conversation with a colleague she hadn’t talked to in over 20 years, there was much laughter and definitely some tears.

Alice celebrated her 103rd birthday—with a troupe of dancers coming to perform for her—on July 30th, 2015. Which was delightful for everyone involved.

Alice passed away peacefully on Wednesday, April 6th, 2016.

She spent the last day of her life in good spirits, listening to music and enjoying having her fan mail read to her by Gail.

As she often did, Alice commented again how amazed and thankful she was that people remembered her and took the time to write, “I really feel that these people care about me.”

Her fans the world over truly gave joy and meaning to the last years of her life. She was always humbled and honored that she could be an inspiration to others.

When Gail left for the day, Alice gave her a send-off wink.

And please, it’s Barker, not Baker! 😉

40 thoughts on “Alice’s Story

  1. Amazing! What a beautiful life she has and had! I loved seeing her in the videos and her reaction to it! You are amazing Alice! Thank you for making my day!

  2. Ms. Alice is just precious! What a remarkable life she has had with so many fun and wonderful memories. God bless her! Thank you for posting the videos and her story!

  3. Dear Alice,
    I live in England and love the video of you seeing your films for the first time. I also have enjoyed watching your soundies of you dancing. You were amazing and I think you still are to be able to remember so much especially the story of you as a little girl at bath time dancing with the band in the street.
    Your story has really warmed my heart. I used to work as a carer in the community and in care homes and I loved to listen to peoples stories of their lives and to me they were a living history of events over the years which history books left out. I met some wonderful people in my job and have always believed that everybody has had an interesting life and has great stories to share.
    I think it’s wonderful you had the job you loved to do and when I watch you dancing you shine. Watching you dance has made me feel really happy.
    It makes me feel like dancing too.
    God Bless You,
    With much love,
    Lindsey xxxxxxx

  4. Hello Alice,

    I loved watching the video of you watching your old dance videos. That video honestly touched my heart. I’ve always loved sitting down and just talking with older people because I feel like I can really learn something from them. You are such a sweetheart and you are so adorable. I really hope you get to hear this comment. I hope to live up to your age. You are honestly the most adorable old women I’ve ever seen on the internet. I know I won’t end up meeting you, which is heartbreaking to know, but hopefully you get this comment to know how much I adore you.

    Sincerely,

    God Bless,

    Grant

  5. I came across a video last night on YouTube titled: “102 y/o sees herself dance for the first time”. I’ve watched it four times since stumbling upon it. I’ve been dancing my whole life. Not as a profession yet, but I consider myself a dancer. I work hard for and practice constantly. Do to medical reasons I haven’t danced in the past 5 years, but last summer my illness ceased and I am able to work and dance again. I just want to say thank you Ms. Alice you have inspired me. You are so humble and the way you move and your smile while you danced, you could feel it you were meant to dance. I could feel the passion you have for dancing. It was quite overwhelming watching your video, in a good way. It just lets me know I will not loose the passion and I will always remember.

  6. Dear Ms.Barker: I first saw your you tube video on Friday Feb. 19, 2016. I was touched. I watch it over and over and each time I get so emotional I just begin to cry. To see the joy that comes over you as you look at your “soundies”, brings joy to others. You remind me of my own 92 year old mother. I have much love and respect for older adults as they are living history. May God bless and keep you Ms. Barker

  7. I am studying at university and one of our assignments is of the Harlem Renaissance, looking through video’s came across this delightful lady and her extraordinary story, WOW what a lady, an inspiration and a true beauty. I just loved watching her reaction to her time as a dancer, looks like she had the time of her life. I hope Alice is keeping well and tapping those little toes. God bless you x x

  8. Dear Ms. Barker: Your videos and your reaction deeply touched me. I always get so emotional when I watch your reaction to seeing your “soundies” for the first time. I think it’s because the youth that you still contain, even at 103, in your memories and your attitude. I cherish any time spent hearing from older people, because you always contain so much wisdom and priceless memories.

    Thank you for sharing yourself with the World

    Lily

  9. I enjoy watching your videos and a blessing to me as a young man to see them. In life a goal for myself is to reach an age that no man has done in the age, only GOD can make that happen. God Bless and your an true inspiartion.. God Bless.. xoxox

  10. This story is amazing and very touching. When you lit up and started singing songs from the 30’s it reminded me of when my grandma started singing songs from the 50’s when she heard them. You’ve Lived a long time and I hope you live a lot longer. – chase

  11. Alice…if your watching me…you’ve made a beautiful history. You probably don’t know how people were inspired to dance, because of you. Thanks to you, people were blooming to dancing. Wherever you are, Rest in Peace. 🙂 ~Katrina

  12. RIP Alice, you have touched my heart & soul. What an amazing time to be alive! You have definitely made your mark, now, may you rest in utter peace. -Laura xxx

  13. I sincerely hope we are all able to keep her alive, to become the oldest person ever to have lived. I truly believe that we only die when there is nothing more to do. Or when the pain outweighs the joy. It can be a lesson to all.

  14. Thank you for your sincere heart to keep old film alive and sharing the dancers who perform. With today’s dancers it becomes too sleezy. Alice, our Chicken Little, may the Lord bless you.

  15. My only wish is that you are still dancing, wherever you are. Sweet dreams, angel. You will always be a light to this earth that continues to shine. Thank you for being an inspiration to so many.

    R.I.P ❤

  16. what a great lady! I am a 23 year old male and she gives me so much inspiration! may her story continue to reach out to others and inspire them 🙂

  17. Amazing story! I was very touched. She was very talented and pretty. I was glad she was able to see herself back 70-80 years ago.

  18. What an absolute treasure we’ve all received by knowing about Alice’s beautiful, beautiful life. Alice, wherever you are, please know that you have touched lives and brought joyful tears. We miss you, but you keep us all shining and hopeful.

    Bless you.

    Johnny

  19. My gosh, I wish I could see Alice in action. Her energetic and beauty are just breath-taking and she still had that swing and sparkle in her eyes even when bed-ridden. May she rest in peace and dance to that big band music in Heaven!

  20. Wow, I first saw this video on my recommended list on YouTube sometime last year over the summer. I watched it with my little sister (who is now 12) and we loved it! We thought Alice was a great dancer and it made both of us feel so happy when we saw her seeing herself 70 years later!! I also showed some of my friends from school this video and they loved it as well. I came back to watch this video, which was actually today, only to find some devastating news. Alice passed in April. As soon as I heard this, I rushed to this site and read what everyone had to say about Alice. She certainly lived a great life and I for sure loved her video and dancing!!

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