FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A Fort Wayne tap dancer who performed with some of the top entertainers in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s shined up the Fort with his own brand of soft shoe years ago.
In June 2004, 80 year old Albert Bernard Stiles decided to show off his soft-shoe during a Public Access Television show recorded at the Allen County Public Library with Roving Reader host Condra Ridley. “I can remember Mr. Stiles as being a person who was full of enthusiasm, optimism and energy,” said Ridley.
Stiles called himself a self-taught song and dance man. “I never took no lessons,” said Stiles during the television show. “I taught myself.”
Raised in Tampa, Florida he got his start in showbiz when he and his friend decided to take a train, without their parents knowledge to New York City to be on a CBS radio show. “When she found out we were on our way to New York she was mad,” laughed Stiles when he reflected on how his mother reacted to his trip. When Stiles hit the road he was 11 years old. His pal Nathaniel was 9.
“I remember Major Bowes came on CBS and I looked up and saw the CBS sign and knew were were hot then,” said Stiles. “We went upstairs and talked to the lady there and told her we were there to see Major Bowes. She told us no at first but after hearing our story and how far we’d come, she let us in to see him.”
Stiles and his partner got on the show, won a talent contest and went on to perform at the World’s Fair in New York City, the Apollo Theater in Harlem and in Canada with such greats as Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. “He was just all over the place tap dancing and singing,” said Ridley.
Stiles lost his partner during World War Two. Since he was stationed outside of Fort Wayne he decided to settle in the city, get married, raise a family and open what he called the World’s Best Shoe Shine. Still, song and dance was in his blood so he started Fort Wayne’s Talent Factory.
“20 some years we worked together,” said James Lindsey who was his Talent Factory partner.
“We established a black theater in Fort Wayne that it didn’t have. It was part of the Talent Factory and the next year we had a play and each year since then.”
Stiles Shoe Shine and Talent Factory was located at 1804 East Wayne Street. It closed about 20 years ago but long before it did, Stiles inspired others to follow in his footsteps.
“I really respected him and honored the man,” said Unity Performing Arts Director Marshall White. “He told me he said Marshal, what you’re doing is what I dreamed to do for years. To pull up and create a platform for kids of color to exercise their talents and develop their skills. He applauded what I was doing and gave me his blessing.”
“He got people jobs. He helped get people off of drugs,” said Lindsey. “He was a multi-faceted individual who’s main focus was on helping the community. He was like family to me.”
Stiles, died in 2014. Before his death he produced a CD called We Can Fly. He was also honored by the Apollo Theater in Harlem as a living legend. Stiles biography can be found on the History Makers website.