I went and bought myself a ticket and I sat down in the very first row, wo wo. They pulled the curtain but then when They turned the spotlight way down low, wo wo, Little Egypt came out strutting, Wearing nothing but a button and a bow, wo wo, Singing, "Ying Yang! Ying Yang! Ying Yang!"
LITTLE EGYPT - Leiber and Stoller
There is a great deal of distance between Chicago, Illinois and London Road, Twickenham - 3949.71 miles to be precise, given a yard or two - but there is definitely a connection between the two involving a long-gone exotic belly dancer at one end and a 1960’s Twickenham R&B band at the other.
Our story starts in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. One of the most scandalous, most talked about performances at the Fair featured a 22 year old Syrian belly dancer called Fahreda Mahzar Spyropoulos, who went by the stage name “Little Egypt”. So erotic, so arousing was her “hoochee-coochee”, and “shimmy and shake” dancing that it provoked international scandal and conservative outrage. One story went that Mark Twain was so enflamed by the provocative oscillations of her hips and bits that he had a heart attack!
Realising that there was real cash to be earned from wobbling your T&A about in public several other women dancers took on the name “Little Egypt” and toured the United States despite protests from Spyropoulos claiming that she was the original and only. Spyropoulos continued dancing as Little Egypt both in the U.S and Europe and even appeared at the 1933 Century of Progress Event in Chicago at the age of 62. She died on the 5th April 1937.
By modern standards “Little Egypt’s” shake and shimmy dancing was rather restrained and her international fame is now forgotten but the legacy of the outrage she provoked over a 100 years ago is not. In 1961 prolific R&B composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller picked up the story of Fahreda Mahzar Spyropoulos and came up with “Little Egypt”, a song about an outrageous dancer who married the man who “bought himself a ticket and sat in the very front row.” In 1962 American R&B vocal group The Coasters took the song to No. 16 in the US Charts. In September 1964 Twickenham based R&B band the Downliners Sect also recorded the song. At the time Twickenham was the home of British based Blues and R&B and the Downliners enjoyed the same status as The Yardbirds, The Pretty Things and the Rolling Stones. “The first British R&B I heard was the Downliners Sect. I heard the Pretty Things later but the Downliners Sect were IT” claimed Van Morrison who was an early fan along with with Rod Stewart and Steve Marriott. Although their record did not dent the UK charts the Downliners version of “Little Egypt” did get into the Swedish “Topp Tio Listan”, a success they consolidated with a major tour. Despite numerous changes in personnel the Sect are still based in Twickenham today and are still gigging which is quite an achievement in the fluid environment of popular music.
Subject to COVID restrictions the Downliners Sect will be playing at the 100 Club, 100 Oxford St on Wednesday 26th May. Members of the Downliners will also be playing with the Eel Pie Allstars at the Barmy Arms on Twickenham Riverside at 2.00pm on Sunday 1st August. R&B never dies - it just gets louder!
Little Egypt dances in 1896
The Downliners Sect “Little Egypt” 1964
– from Martyn Day