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Pop Music Icon Chubby checker swings through Cherokee Feb. 28

By Christi Marsico • Staff Writer

Chubby Checker clears his throat and states with pomp, “I plan on tearing the place up and taking no prisoners in Cherokee.”

Leaving New York City on his tour bus, the Checkerlicious Express, Checker said he was extremely excited about traveling to North Carolina to perform in concert at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino on Saturday, Feb. 28.

“My whole life is a holiday,” Checker told The Smoky Mountain News during a telephone interview. “The biggest event in the music industry and the number one song on the planet is coming to Cherokee and it’s going to blow the house down.”


Chubby before the Checker

Checker was born Ernest Evans on Oct. 3, 1941, in Spring Gulley, S.C., and remembers his childhood fondly.

“All good stuff happened in South Carolina. I had to do hard work and we lived on a farm where I had to clean pens,” Checker said.

When Checker was 7 he moved with his family to South Philadelphia. His mother took him to see the child piano prodigy Sugar Child Robinson and the famous country singer Ernest Tubb. The showbiz bug had bitten Checker. At the age of 11, he joined a street corner harmony group.

Early musical influences that made on impression on Checker were Perry Como, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.

During his high school years, Checker played the piano and began making a name for himself with vocal impressions.

He had an after-school job at Fresh Farm Poultry and the Produce Market, where he would sing and crack jokes. His boss, Tony A., was the one who gave him the nickname “Chubby.”

Henry Colt, the storeowner of Fresh Farm Poultry soon caught sight and sound of Checker and began showing him off to his customers through the store’s loudspeaker.

It wasn’t long before Colt arranged for Checker to meet with Dick Clark. Clark was impressed with young vocalist, and in 1959 Checker recorded his first hit with the Christmas single, “The Class.”

Upon being asked what his name was by Clark’s wife, Bobbie, Checker replied “Chubby.” Clark’s wife came up with “Checker,” which was a play on Fats Domino, who Checker had imitated earlier.


The big break and beyond

Checker’s big break came that same year as he appeared on the popular TV show “American Bandstand.”

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters didn’t show up for an appearance on the show, and Clark asked Checker to cover the group’s hit “The Twist.” The song became a Number One hit and the dance craze took hold of America.

The dance encouraged boys and girls to jive separately from each other, changing the teen beat with rippling effects for the future.

“I gave them something they can use 24/7,” Checker said. “When I hear the music of today, I hear the influences of yesterday.”

Launching into the 60s, “The Twist” found a resurgence in the “Peppermint Twist,” “Twist and Shout,” and “Twistin’ the Night Away.”

With each new song came new dance moves such as “The Jerk,” “The Hully Gully,” “The Boogaloo,” and “The Hucklebuck.”

Checker had hit after hit, and in 1961 he recorded “Pony Time,” which went to Number One and stayed there for 16 weeks. Checker took time to star in the films, “Don’t Knock The Twist” and “Twist Around The Clock.”

Making record industry history in 1961, Checker’s original hit “The Twist” re-entered the charts, and by 1962 the song was at Number One again. No other song before or since has accomplished that achievement.

“The Twist” spent a total of nine months on the charts.

Checker tried his hand at other musical genres including folk, country and reggae, and he admits that he is his own worst critic.

Being in the music business since the age of 18, Checker said if he had pursued another career he would have “built skyscrapers and been a landlord.”


Snack Attack

Almost a decade ago, Checker branched out into the snack food business honoring 40 years of “The Twist” with Chocolate Checker Bars, beef jerky, hot dogs, steaks, and popcorn, including Girl of the World Water which he dedicated to his wife.

“From candy bars to hotdogs, every time you pick up a Chubby Checker snack you’ll know about our history and how we affected lives,” Checker said.

With plans of a Chubby Checker Smokehouse in the works for the end of the year, Checker keeps cruising his Checkerlicious Express with inventive ways to twist again.

For more information on Checker or his snacks visit www.chubbychecker.com.

Casino job losses first since Cherokee opening

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is cutting 100 jobs because of the national economic downturn.

The cuts represent about 5 percent of the casino’s approximately 1,800 employees. Harrah’s hopes to achieve the workforce reduction voluntarily, with the offer of a severance package spurring people to step up. But it will force layoffs if enough volunteers don’t materialize.

Darold Londo, general manager of the casino, said the softening economy with no apparent turnaround in sight has forced the casino’s hand.

“We continue to see fewer customers as they, like all consumers, are being prudent and cautious with their discretionary incomes,” Londo said. The casino’s gaming revenue has declined 4.4 percent over the past year.

This is the first time Harrah’s Cherokee has had to lay off employees in its 11-year history, Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise Chairwoman Norma Moss noted. Moss said the employees are being offered a “fair and lucrative” severance package.

Employees were notified of the cuts Monday and told to come forward by Jan. 19 if they want to be part of the voluntary layoffs. The casino hopes the cuts will be made by the end of the month.

All of the casino’s profits are given to the Cherokee government. For the first time since the casino opened, that amount has gone down. In the 2007 fiscal year ending in September, $253 million was given to the tribe, compared to only $244 million for 2008, Moss said. Moss said the casino is trying to manage its operating costs to minimize the impact on the money distributed to the tribe.

Half of the profits go for tribal programs and the other half is distributed to the tribe’s approximately 13,500 members in the form of “per-capita” checks twice a year.

A $633 million expansion under way at the casino will not be impacted by the economic problems, Moss said.

“It will continue,” Moss said.

The expansion includes doubling the restaurants, hotel rooms, seating in the showroom and the gaming space, Moss said. The expansion will continue because the casino secured good financing and construction costs are affordable because of the lack of other construction work, Moss said.

Moss said the casino is excited about the expansion because when the economy rebounds Harrah’s Cherokee will be ahead of the competition.

Londo said as the economy improves he hopes that many employees can be rehired, and as phases of the expansion are completed additional employees will be needed.

Ten yers after Harrah’s, Cherokee is a better place

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino quietly marked its 10th anniversary in November, but it’s impossible to ignore exactly what it has meant to the Eastern Band of Cherokee and its members. It has been the catalyst for a proud people to turn around their economic plight, and in doing so use the gaming revenues to preserve a culture and history that is part of the story of all the Americas and this county.

With formulation of advisory committee, efforts to regulate growth along Hwy. 441 are well underway

By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

At speeds faster than 50 mph, drivers zoom down U.S. 441 into Cherokee’s business district, passing mostly billboards, a couple of gas stations and a few small businesses. The two-mile stretch of roadway is heavily used by locals and tourists, accommodating about 15,000 cars a day. Some use it to get to the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or the Blue Ridge Parkway, others make it their gateway to Harrah’s Casino and downtown Cherokee, while for many it’s just part of their daily driving route.

Harrah’s success should prompt state to allow live dealers

Gambling at the Harrah’s casino in Cherokee is wildly successful. That success — and the state’s own actions — makes Gov. Mike Easley’s resistance to the use of live dealers slightly ridiculous and enormously hypocritical.

Betting on the future

In a suite on the 16th floor of Harrah’s Cherokee hotel and casino, Cherokee leaders happily milled about as an architectural animation of expansion plans played repeatedly on a flat-screen TV.

Upping the ante

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is placing a $650 million bet that visitors to Harrah’s casino and hotel are looking for amenities akin to those that are becoming standard across the gaming industry.

$254 million Harrah’s expansion targets baby boomers

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel is planning a $254 million expansion and upgrade of its operations, including a third hotel tower, new entertainment venue and overhaul of the casino floor.

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