The History of The High Five

Did you know the third Thursday of every April is National High Five Day? That would be April 21 this year. While the best way to celebrate High Five Day is simply to give out your fair share of celebratory slaps, it can also help to know your history and when it comes to the high five, that history is actually rather recent.

The Gesture’s Low Reaching Roots

Long before the high five, there was the low five, although, at the time it was known as “giving skin” and “slapping skin.” The low five started way back in the jazz age and while there seems to be no detailed record of how it was started, it was a fairly popular gesture amongst jazz musicians. This was immortalized throughout history when Al Jolson gives a low five in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer. The 1941 Abbot and Costello film In the Navy takes note of this with the Andrews Sisters song, “Gimme Some Skin, My Friend.

Slapping five continued to be a popular gesture in the African American culture and you can see black characters slapping hands in movies all the way up to blaxploitation films from the seventies

Making the Five High

Image via Outsports The high five that most people credit as the first took place in 1977. It was exchanged between Dusty Baker and Glen Burke at a Los Angeles Dodgers game. Burke gave Baker a raised hand to slap in celebration after Baker scored a home run. Murray State University basketball player Lamont Sleets has challenged this story though, claiming that he developed the gesture while playing on his college team in the 1960’s. This isn’t the only high five challenge between basketball and baseball players. A number of basketballers claim to have started using the term “high five” during their 1979/1980 season. University of Louisville baseball player Derek Smith disputes this though and claims that he is the originator of the term. No matter who originated or named it though, the gesture was an immediate success in sports circles as soon as Baker and Burke’s slap was seen around the country. It was soon being used by teams across the country, most notably the 1980 Louisville Cardinals basketball team, who high fived each other throughout their run for the title and helped bring it to the forefront of American consciousness. Image via bgubitz [Wikipedia] By 1980, the noun “high five” was in the Oxford English Dictionary and by 1981, it was added as a verb as well.

Making A Good Thing Into A National Holiday

In the eighties, the gesture took on a life of its own and it seemed like every sitcom character was high fiving someone at least once per episode. It isn’t surprising that the high five took a dive in popularity through the nineties and popular culture tried to cleanse itself of the over saturation of the gesture. Even so, the high five has always continued to have its fans and in 2002, three University of Virginia Students decided to give the high five its due. The three students decided they wanted to start their own holiday and they agreed that honoring the lost art of the high five would be the perfect reason to celebrate. The ultimate goal of the holiday was to better people’s days by giving high fives to strangers, who might then be inspired to give high fives to others. While the headquarters of the holiday started on the university campus, it quickly spread thanks to the power of the internet. By 2005, the idea had gained enough momentum that the City of San Diego actually agreed to recognize National High Five Day as an official city celebration. (Being a long-term resident of America’s Finest City, I admit that I was highly upset that I had never heard of the city’s decree until I started writing this article.) So now that you know about National High Five Day and about the gesture’s respectable origin story, it is up to you, dear readers to spread the word, and the skin. Share your support of high fives on April 21 and every day. Just remember to do it sparingly. After all, an overused high five is worse than no high five at all and we don’t want this great cultural connection to fade away every again. Sources: Wikipedia, High Five Me, National High Five Project

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The specific term high-five was around as early as 1973. I know because my father and I had a specific conversation about it's meaning, and he died that year.
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