Out and about Harlem / De paseo por Harlem

March 2018/marzo 2018

Discover Harlem

Harlem Swing Dance Society Historic Tour

Spirit of Community: Art of Harlem exhibition (Harlem Hospital Center, Lenox Avenue, NY).

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Atlantic Lindy Hopper hops the Atlantic

Spanish

Atlantic Lindy Hopper is going to New York in March 2018 thanks to the the support of the Frankie Manning Foundation.

I will be researching the origins of Lindy hop in Harlem: early press materials, the history of the dancers and the venues where they danced. The treasures of the NYPL await (this library even has its own film).

It’s not all going to be archives, there will also be an escapade to LindyFest in Houston, one of the major swing festivals in the US.

I hope to come back with lots of new stories for Atlantic Lindy Hopper, watch this space.

Atlantic Lindy Hopper salta el charco

English

Atlantic Lindy Hopper se va a Nueva York en marzo 2018 gracias a la ayuda de la Frankie Manning Foundation.

Estaré investigando los orígenes del Lindy hop en Harlem: las primeras menciones en prensa, la historia de los bailarines y los locales donde bailaban. Los tesoros de la NYPL me esperan (esta biblioteca incluso tiene su propia película).

No todo va a ser archivos, también habrá una escapada al LindyFest en Houston, una de los mayores festivales de Lindy de los EEUU.

Espero volver con muchas historias nuevas para Atlantic Lindy Hopper.

 

 

Ella es jazz

Hoy, martes 25 de abril de 2017 se cumplen cien años del nacimiento de Ella Fitzgerald. Es un año de muchos centenarios: ese mismo año se editó el primer disco de jazz, de la Original Dixieland Jazz Band. No se puede entender el swing, el jazz y la música norteamericana sin Ella. Según la biografía conocida, que se puede leer en la wikipedia y otros, nació el 25 de abril de 2017 en Newport News, creció en la pobreza de la Depresión y se trasladó a Harlem en Nueva York a los quince años cuando perdió a su madre, en 1932.

Poco después la descubrió Chick Webb, que lideraba la orquesta del Savoy Ballroom, cuando ganó un concurso de talentos amateur cantando en el famoso Teatro Apolo. Chick la llevó al Savoy y la convirtió en la cantante de su banda con solo 17 años, lo demás es historia. Su colaboración fue fructífera: el swing nació en Harlem, en el Savoy concretamente, de la mano de Ella y Chick, conocido también como el “Rey del Swing”.  Nos han dejado grandes temas bailables de esta época, pero su verdadero estrellato comenzó con el éxito A Tisket, A Tasket en 1938. Cuando Chick murió prematuramente en 1939 por sus problemas de salud,  Ella pasó a liderar la orquesta de Chick Webb durante algunos años más.

Lo que quizá no sea tan conocido es que Ella Fitzgerald también bailaba Lindy, y que antes que cantante había querido ser bailarina. Demuestra la afinidad que existía entre los músicos y bailarines, que se inspiraban mutuamente.  Llegó a decir más tarde: “Nunca me consideré una cantante. Lo que yo en verdad quería era bailar” (Tales of the Swing Age). Noche tras noche, Ella cantaba en el Savoy, y lo jóvenes lindy hoppers, Frankie Manning y Norma Miller entre otros, acudían a bailar. La sintonía entre músicos y bailarines era absoluta. En sus primeros años fueron incluso compañeros de gira.

Ella no solo creó el swing, siguió evolucionando como cantante de jazz a lo largo de su carrera que abarca todas las épocas y músicos de jazz del siglo XX, del swing al bop y el cancionero de Cole Porter. Es por ejemplo una de las grandes cantantes de “scat” junto con Louis Armstrong: la voz como instrumento musical de jazz, la voz como emoción y libertad, todo en uno, sin palabras. Incluso en los temas más melancólicos escuchar a Ella nunca produce desesperanza, siempre se vislumbra el optimismo de su vitalidad. Siempre, siempre, tiene swing.

Y por poder seguir disfrutando y bailando sus temas, gracias Ella.

Me disculpo por la brevedad porque van a dar las doce y no quería dejar pasar esta fecha. Lo mejor es escucharla: afrontemos la música y bailemos.

Undecided, Ella and the Chick Webb Orchestra

Blue Skies, Ella Fitzgerald

100 Songs for a Centennial, Spotify 

bardu

Ella Fitzgerald Foundation

Norma Miller en persona

English

En diciembre tuve la suerte de conocer a Norma Miller, Reina del Swing, en Milán, donde se celebraba su 97 cumpleaños…y el lanzamiento de su nuevo álbum A Swingin’ Love Fest. Llevo más de un año trabajando en la traducción de sus memorias, así que en cuanto me enteré de que venía a Europa ya me estaba subiendo a Ryanair sin pensármelo; tenía que conocerla. Es imposible describir la energía en estado puro que desprende Norma Miller, pero conseguí tomar algunos apuntes, y aquí comparto algunas de sus palabras sobre el Lindy Hop, la vida y el elusivo «ismo».

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Norma Miller cantando con la Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra, Milán, 10 December 2016

Norma Miller empezó bailando en las calles de Harlem de niña, antes de llegar al Savoy Ballroom y convertirse en bailarina de los Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. Vino a Europa cuando tenía quince años para dar a conocer el Lindy Hop ante el público europeo por primera vez, y hoy en día sigue enseñándonos de qué va. Para saber más sobre su increíble recorrido vital y profesional que empieza en el Savoy y la lleva a actuar con Cab Calloway y Count Basie, entre otros, de Harlem a Hollywood pasando por Rio de Janeiro y más allá…¡pues recomiendo sus memorias, Swingin’ at the Savoy! (que pronto estará disponible en español también).

Aquí está Norma interpretando su número Gimme the Beat con la Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra el 10 de diciembre en Spirit de Milan. Gimme da Beat.

Por amor al swing en Milán

Todo el fin de semana resultó ser un festival por amor al swing, organizado por Maurizio «Big Daddy» Meterangelo y Roberta Bevilacqua, la familia italiana de Norma, también conocidos como la Italian Swing Dance Society. Maurizio grabó el nuevo álbum con Norma y dirige la Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra con verdadero estilo “hep”. Spirit de Milan aportó el ambiente industrial decadente, los lindy hoppers locales estuvieron a la altura de las expectativas de estilismo, y con detalles como el coche de los años 30 en el que llegó Norma la noche del estreno, era fácil pensar que uno se había adentrado en un escenario de película de gángsteres.

Disfrutamos de la proyección del documental Queen of Swing, que Maurizio había subtitulado especialmente para la ocasión, seguido de una entrevista personal con Norma cada noche. Jude Lindy hizo de maestro de ceremonias e intérprete, y Norma estuvo chispeante (literalmente, con su traje de lentejuelas), mostrando su carisma de estrella en cuanto se subía al escenario.  Fueron dos noches fantásticas de música en directo, con el aliciente del virtuosismo del bailarín Chester A. Whitmore,  (que ha trabajado recientemente en La La Land).

El momento cumbre del evento fue por supuesto la actuación de la Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra con Norma Miller el sábado por la noche. Tienen el mejor sonido de big band que conozco en directo, y la Reina del Swing claramente tenía el beat. Cinco de las canciones del álbum son de Norma, y las interpretó en directo, incluyendo Gimme da Beat, They Call Him Louie, Swingin’ Frankie’s Way, Down in New Orleans y Swing Baby Swing.

¡Celebrábamos el lanzamiento del nuevo álbum de Norma y sus 97 años recién cumplidos! (Lo cual por cierto, se aproxima a un récord guinness).

Fue un fin de semana intensísimo, rebosante del espíritu del swing. Maurizio y Roberta fueron muy acogedores, y me entraron ganas de formar parte de la familia lindy hoppera italiana.

Pero mejor que nos lo cuente Norma (según mis apuntes).

Norma Miller hablando de…

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Count Basie

“Count Basie tenía la mejor banda de swing que haya existido. Todo lo que hacía… Les decía a los arreglistas que escribieran música para mantener a los bailarines en la pista. Por consiguiente, si escuchas una melodía de Basie sabes que la puedes bailar. Tenía una de las mejores secciones rítmicas de todos los tiempos. Walter Page al contrabajo, Jo Jones a la batería, Freddy Green a la guitarra y Basie al piano. Formaban la mejor sección rítmica de toda la historia de la música swing. Ahora bien, había muchas grandes bandas. Estaba Chick Webb, el Rey del Swing. Estaba Jimmy Lunceford, otra gran banda. Pero ninguna swingueaba como Basie. Por eso coreografiamos todos nuestros bailes con música de Basie, porque rítmicamente era perfecto. Y cuando bailas Lindy Hop, bailas al son de un buen ritmo. Y las dos cosas iban de la mano perfectamente. Y por eso Basie era una de nuestras mejores bandas para bailar. No es que las otras orquestas no fueran buenas, es solo que ninguna era mejor que la de Count Basie.”

El Lindy Hop, lo más maravilloso    

“No hay nada más maravilloso que un chico y una chica, disfrutando de un tema de Count Basie. Toma Corner Pocket, por ejemplo, tomas uno de los grandes temas de Basie, y estás con una chica sobre la pista, bueno, es algo para disfrutar. El Lindy Hop es el mejor baile social que existe. El ballet es maravilloso, el solo jazz es algo fantástico, pero no hay nada más maravilloso que estar con un chico y estar swingueando con él, es sencillamente lo mejor del mundo. No hay nada mejor que el Lindy Hop. Yo ya estoy llegando al final de la cuerda, pero vosotros tenéis que disfrutarlo. ¡¡Yo lo disfruté!!”

“El Lindy Hop es la cosa más sexual que puedan hacer un chico y una chica…sin irse al dormitorio”.

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 Swing y color

 

“El swing hacía integración racial antes de Martin Luther King. Eso es lo que ocurría en el Savoy. Blancos y negros codo con codo, bailando juntos. Estábamos intentando lograr la integración.”

“El swing no tiene color. No importa que seas blanco o negro, o incluso musulmán. El swing es música. El sonido no tiene color. Escuchas una canción de Count Basie y no puedes ni pensar en el color. Eso es el swing. Conseguimos elevarnos por encima de todo eso.”

Salir del gueto

“Yo era mujer y negra. El swing, el baile, fue lo que me sacó de Harlem. Sobrevivimos. Me esforcé por ser la mejor, toda mi vida. Tienes que ser la mejor en lo que hagas para salir adelante.”

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers

 “Éramos buenos. Éramos buenos porque bailábamos todas las noches. Durante unos cinco años, antes de hacer las películas, estábamos en el Savoy cada noche. Por eso éramos buenos.”

Bailar

 “Tienes que bailar al son de la música. Tienes que escuchar y bailar respondiendo a la música que toque la banda. Nosotros lo bailábamos todo. El Savoy era un salón de baile y tenías que bailar de todo, one-step, two-step…no bailábamos Lindy hop toda la noche.”

“No le doy consejos a bailarines. Baila, eso es todo.”

“Ismo”

“’Ismo’, hmmmm, mmmm, ‘ismo’ es aquella cosa. ‘ismo’ es lo que hacía que Louis Armstrong fuera Louis Armstrong.”

Su primer baile con Twistmouth George

“Yo tenía doce años y nunca lo olvidaré. Fue el mejor día de mi vida. Estaba bailando con el mejor bailarín, él medía casi dos metros, yo solo tenía doce años. Volé. Nunca lo olvidaré.

¿Su bebida preferida?

“Mimosa, champán y zumo de naranja, ¿puede haber algo mejor?”

Seguir swingueando

Norma nunca ha parado de swinguear y tiene muchísimos planes. Quiere traerse a la Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra a Nueva York a tocar en el festival de Midsummer Jazz del Lincoln Center. También quiere montar un show en Broadway con Chester y los mejores bailarines de swing, y si alguien puede conseguir que sea un éxito, esa es Norma.

¿El consejo de Norma para las futuras generaciones?

“Keep swingin’”, seguir swingueando.

Si quieres nominar a Norma para Premio Kennedy, puedes hacerlo aquí.

Banda sonora:

A Swingin’ Love Fest (Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra con Norma Miller, 2016).

Puedes solicitar una copia del álbum a la  Italian Swing Dance Society.

Lectura:

Swingin’ at the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer, Norma Miller con Evette Jensen (Temple University Press). Pronto disponible en español.

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Todas las fotos son de Olga BSP para Spirit de Milan, cortesía de Italian Swing Dance Society.

A Royal Welcome for the Queen of Swing se organizó con la colaboración de Italian Swing Dance Society, Luca Locatelli, la Klaxon Agency y Spirit de Milan.

 

 

Meeting Norma Miller

Español

In December I was lucky to have the opportunity to meet Norma Miller, Queen of Swing, in Milan, where she was celebrating her 97th birthday…and the launch of her new album A Swingin’ Love Fest. I have been working on translating her memoirs into Spanish for over a year now, so as soon as I found out she was coming to Europe I was hopping on to that Ryanair flight, I had to meet her. It is impossible to describe the sheer energy Norma Miller exudes, but I managed to take some notes, and here are some of Norma’s words of wisdom on Lindy Hop, life and “ism”.

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Norma Miller performing at Spirit de Milan, December 2016, photo by OlgaBSP.

Norma Miller started dancing on the streets of Harlem as a kid, before making it to the Savoy Ballroom and becoming one of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. When she was 15 she came to Europe, and introduced European audiences to the Lindy Hop for the first time – and she is still teaching us what it’s all about now. To find out more about her incredible life and career dancing in the Savoy and performing with Cab Calloway and Count Basie, among many others, from Harlem to Hollywood and Rio and beyond…well I recommend her memoirs Swingin’ at the Savoy! (Soon to be available in Spanish too).

This is Norma performing her number Gimme da Beat with the Billy Bros. Orchestra on 10 December 2016 at Spirit de Milan. Gimme da Beat.

A swingin’ love fest in Milan

The whole weekend was in fact a swingin’ love fest, organized by Maurizio ‘Big Daddy’ Meterangelo and Roberta Bevilacqua, Norma’s Italian family, also known as Italian Swing Dance Society. Maurizio recorded the new album with Norma and leads the Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra in true hep fashion. The setting, the decadent industrial glamour of Spirit de Milan, and the local lindy hoppers lived up to Italian style expectations, so that you could be forgiven for thinking you had wandered in to a gangster movie set at times, including the 1930s vintage car that Norma pulled up in on opening night.

We enjoyed a screening of the documentary Queen of Swing, which Maurizio had subtitled especially for the occasion, followed by a personal interview with Norma each night. Jude Lindy acted as MC and interpreter and Norma was in (literally) sparkling form, she showed her star quality as soon as she was up on stage. We had two nights of fantastic live music and were treated to the dance virtuosity of Chester A. Whitmore, who was delightful at all times (Chester recently worked on La La Land).

The highlight of the event was of course a show-stopping performance of the Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra with Norma Miller on the Saturday night. They have the best big band sound I have heard live, and the Queen of Swing certainly had the beat. Five of the album’s songs are Norma’s, which she sang live, including Gimme da Beat, They Call Him Louie, Swingin’ Frankie’s Way, Down in New Orleans and Swing Baby Swing. 

We were celebrating Norma’s new album and her recent 97th Birthday!! (Which by the way, is very close to being a world record).

It was an incredibly intense weekend, filled with swing and joy. Maurizio and Roberta were truly welcoming and made me want to join the Italian lindy hopping family too.

But let’s hear what Norma had to say (recorded as best I could).

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Norma Miller on…

Count Basie

“Count Basie had the greatest swing band ever. He was the one that was able to…Everything he did. He told arrangers to write the music to keep the dancers on the floor. Consequently, if you hear a Basie tune you can dance to it. He had one of the best rhythm sections ever. Walter Page on bass, Jo Jones on drums, Freddy Green on guitar and Basie on the piano. Which was the best rhythm section ever in the history of swing music. Now, you had a lot of great bands. You had Chick Webb who was the King of Swing. You had Jimmy Lunceford, another great band. But no-one swung like Basie. That’s why all our dances were choreographed to Basie music, because rhythmically it was perfect. And when you Lindy Hop, you Lindy Hop to great rhythm. And the two things went together perfectly.  And that is why Basie was one of our best bands for dancing. It wasn’t that the other bands weren’t good, it’s just nobody was better at it than Count Basie.”

The most wonderful thing     

 “ Nothing’s more wonderfully enjoyable than a guy and a girl, enjoying a Count Basie tune. You take Corner Pocket, you take any of the great Basie tunes and you take a girl on the floor, well it’s an enjoyable thing. Lindy Hop is the best social dance there is. Ballet is wonderful, solo jazz is wonderful, but nothing is more wonderful than to be with a guy and you swing with him, it’s just the best there is. Nothing tops the Lindy Hop. I’m at the end of my rope now, but you got to enjoy it. I enjoyed it!!”

“Lindy Hop is the most sexual thing a guy and a girl can do…without going to the bedroom.”

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 Swing and colour

“Swing was doing integration before Martin Luther King. That’s what was happening in the Savoy. White people along with black people, dancing together. We were trying to do integration.”

“Swing has no colour. It doesn’t matter whether you are white or black, or even Muslim. Swing is music. Sound has no colour. You play a Count Basie song and you can’t think about colour. That’s swing. We rose above it.”

Getting out of the ghetto

“I was a woman and I was black. Swing, dancing, got me out of Harlem. We survived. I tried to be the best, all my life. You have to be the best at what you do to get ahead.”

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers

“We were good. We were good because we danced every night. For about five years, before the movies, we were at the Savoy dancing every night. That’s why we were good.”

Dancing

 “You got to dance to the music. You have to listen and dance to the music the band is playing. We danced everything. The Savoy was a ballroom and you had to dance to everything, one-step, two-step…We didn’t Lindy Hop all night.”

“I don’t give advice to dancers. Just dance.”

“Ism”

“Ism is mmmm, mmhhhh, it’s that something. ‘Ism’ is what made Louis Armstrong Louis Armstrong”.

Her first dance with Twistmouth George

“I was twelve and I will never forget it. It was the best day of my life. I was dancing with the best dancer, he was six foot tall, I was only twelve, I flew. I will never forget it.”

Her drink of choice?

“Mimosa, champagne and orange juice, what could be better?”

Keep Swingin’

Norma hasn’t stopped swinging and she is full of plans. She wants to bring the Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra to New York to perform at Midsummer Jazz at the Lincoln Center. She also wants to bring a show to Broadway with Chester and the best swing dancers, if anyone can make it a great show that is Norma.

Norma’s advice for future generations?

“Keep Swingin’”.

If you want to recommend Norma for a Kennedy Center Honor you can do so here.

Soundtrack:

A Swingin’ Love Fest (Billy Bros. Swing Orchestra with Norma Miller, 2016).

You can order a copy from the Italian Swing Dance Society.

Reading:

Swingin’ at the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer, Norma Miller with Evette Jensen (Temple University Press).

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Norma Miller with Chester A. Whitmore, Roberta Bevilacqua and Karen Campos McCormack in Milan, photo by OlgaBSP

All photos by OlgaBSP for Spirit de Milan, courtesy of Italian Swing Dance Society.

A Royal Welcome for the Queen of Swing was organized by Italian Swing Dance Society in collaboration with Luca Locatelli, the Klaxon Agency and Spirit de Milan.

Harlem on Parade: Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs in Dublin

This post was originally published as a guest post on the Frankie Manning Foundation site (by Karen Campos McCormack).

This might not be a widely known fact among the Irish Lindy Hopping community, but Frankie Manning was in Dublin in 1937. He was performing with Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs, as Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were billed on this European tour with the Cotton Club Revue. They landed in Dublin following a successful ten weeks run at the Moulin Rouge in Paris and six weeks at the London Palladium. In his memoir, Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop (see notes below), after describing their tour of Paris and London, Frankie mentions briefly that they also performed in Dublin and Manchester. I was intrigued by this single line, and decided to do some research last summer when I was in Ireland. I was amazed at what I discovered in just a few days at the library and trawling through online Irish newspaper archives. Since I first fell in love with Lindy Hop in Dublin, knowing that Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers actually danced here and walked the streets of Dublin is especially meaningful for me.

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CWhyte’s Hopping Maniacs –presenting something new in dance creations–in “Harlem on Parade” which comes to the Theatre Royal, to-day.’ (The Irish Press, Monday 30 August 1937). From left to right: Naomi Waller, Frankie Manning, Lucille Middleton, Jerome Willliams, Mildred Cruse and Billy Williams.

 

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Advert in The Irish Press, 31 August 1937 (Source: Irish News Archive).

 

The Cotton Club Revue was billed as ‘Harlem on Parade’ in its visit to Dublin. It opened at the Theatre Royal on Monday 30 August 1937 and ran that week, closing on Saturday 4 September.

 ‘Everyone should go and see the Cotton Club Revue’

The Cotton Club Revue set sail from New York on 25 May 1937 and showcased the best African American musical and dance talent. It was spectacular in all senses, with a travelling cast of sixty artists including the Teddy Hill Orchestra, the Three Berry Brothers dance act, singers Rollin’ Smith and Alberta Hunter, Harlem dancers Freddy and Ginger, tap dancer Bill Bailey, Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs, the Tramp Band (a novel musical act), and a chorus line of ‘25 copper coloured gals’, as they were advertised. The Revue performed in full in Paris and London, but the chorus line was dropped for their shows in Dublin and Manchester. For the European tour Teddy Hill was replacing the Cab Calloway band from the original New York show, and similarly, Bill Bailey replaced tap star Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson. Frankie said about Teddy Hill’s orchestra, which at the time included a young Dizzie Gillespie, ‘I always loved dancing to that band. They knew how to improvise on the spot.’ (Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop, p135). The Cotton Club was the epitome of show business, and performing there was a turning point in his career.

The show gathered enthusiastic reviews in its European tour. Playing at the Moulin Rouge in Paris it attracted Django Rheinhardt and Hugues Panassié, the famous French jazz critic, (the former went to see them perform every night according to Frankie, and Panassié went to see them fifteen or twenty times). For Panassié, ‘The biggest event of the 1937 season in Paris was the arrival of the Cotton Club Revue’, and ‘Everyone should go to see the Cotton Club Revue.’ (Quotes from Paris Blues, p77).

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London Palladium Cotton Club Revue programme, 1937 (Source Flashbak)

It was advertised in British papers as ‘The fastest entertainment in the world and given by Harlem’s foremost entertainers.’

Swing comes to town

It was late August 1937 when Harlem on Parade came to Dublin. These were dark times in European history, the Irish newspapers are full of news about the Spanish Civil War (refugees fleeing from Franco’s troupes in Santander) and thousands gathering at the Nazi Annual Congress in Nuremberg, on the same pages that Harlem on Parade is advertised. In the face of the Depression and increasing world conflict, Harlem was spreading its message of swing and joy across Europe, a ‘riot of music, dancing, song and rollicking fun’, as described by the Irish paper the Saturday Herald (28 August).

Down with Jazz

Ireland might not have seemed like the most swingin’ location. Just a few years earlier, leading religious figures and politicians, including President Eamon De Valera, had supported a ‘Down with Jazz’ campaign (1934). Jazz music, and dancing in particular, were seen as a pagan threat to Catholic morality and Ireland’s newly independent national identity, claiming that jazz dancing was ‘suggestive and demoralizing’, ‘a menace to their very civilization as well as religion’. To give foreign readers an idea of the sway of the Catholic Church at the time, just about a quarter of Ireland’s population (i.e. one million people) had gathered at the 1932 Eucharistic Congress High Mass in Phoenix Park (Dublin). Despite this campaign and the severe restrictions of the 1935 Dance Hall Act, jazz music and dancing were hugely popular—Swing music was the music of the moment worldwide, and American film and music were pervasive, as much in Ireland as in Franco’s Spain and even Germany. Dubliners who wished to evade the dark news coming from Europe had no end of jazzy entertainment options from cinemas to theatres or dances.

Harlem on Parade at the Theatre Royal

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Image of the Theatre Royal from its opening programme in 1935 (source arthurlloyd.co.uk)

Harlem on Parade opened on Monday 30 August 1937 in Dublin’s top venue, the (third) Theatre Royal, located on Hawkins Street. An ambitious modernist entertainment venue opened in 1935, it was the largest theatre in Ireland, and one of the largest in Europe, with seating for 3,850 people. It included the luxury Regal Rooms (dining room and ballroom) and a cinema. Harlem on Parade was at the Theatre Royal in a cine-variety format, including local artists and two short films; the Theatre Royal had been especially designed for this type of entertainment, which was very popular before the advent of TV. Unfortunately, nothing remains on its former site to give us an idea of the splendour of the Theatre Royal, as it was demolished in 1962 (and replaced by probably the ugliest government buildings in Dublin).  The only surviving element is the grand marble staircase from the Theatre Royal’s Regal Rooms, now located in the Marks and Spencer’s store on Grafton Street, which is open to the public if you wish to literally follow in Frankie’s steps.

Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs

Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs were Whitey’s top group and comprised three teams on the European tour: Naomi Waller and Frankie Manning, Lucille Middleton and Jerome Williams, Mildred Cruse and Billy Williams. They had started performing at the Cotton Club in 1936. Whitey had several dance groups going at that time under different names, such as the group dancing in the Marx Brothers movie. Frankie suggested the name of Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs because they were crazy, but over the years all the groups came to be referred to under the umbrella of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers (Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop, p125).

Harlem Celebrations in Dublin

The entirely African American cast of Harlem on Parade would have attracted quite some attention in Dublin, which was not as racially diverse then as nowadays. Although Irish audiences would have been familiar with African American performers from films and touring shows. I was excited to find several photographs of the cast around Dublin, including some of Frankie and other members of Whitey’s Hopping Maniacs, published in the Irish newspapers.

The big news story that week (aside from the Spanish civil war and the Nazi congress) was the heavyweight world championship fight between Joe Louis and Welshman Farr (the ‘white hope’ to regain the championship from ‘negro’ Joe Louis, Evening Herald 31 August) which was taking place in New York. The fight was given full-page round-by-round coverage, and there are two related photos of the Harlem on Parade cast, one of them reading the latest news scoop, and another celebrating Joe Louis’ victory. As Norma Miller explains in her memoirs, Joe Louis was an important hero for the African American community (Swingin’ at the Savoy). The Evening Herald photo of the Harlem cast celebrations (31 August), provides us with the first identifiable image of Frankie in Dublin.

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‘Members of the “Harlem on Parade” cast are appearing at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, this week, reading The Irish Presss “scoop” poster -Louis To Cover Fight for Us.’ (The Irish Press, 31 August 1937. Source: Irish News Archive). Unidentified cast members.
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‘Harlem celebrations in Dublin: Enthusiastic members fo the “Harlem on Parade” cast who are appearing at the Theatre Royal, rejoice at the result of the big fight. Picture taken early this morning.’ (Evening Herald, Tuesday 31 August 1937). (Source: Irish News Archive). Frankie Manning, easily recognizable sitting centre-left looking at the camera, with Dizzy Gillespie just in front of him waving his hat, and other unidentified cast members, possibly including, left to right, Naomi, Mildred and Lucille, to be confirmed.

The hottest thing in town

There is also a photo of the Harlem on Parade cast looking at the Gas Company Building window display. Cynthia Millman helped me identify this photo where we can see Lucille Middleton and Naomi Waller (possibly even Frankie and Billy, but this is more uncertain due to the grainy image). This is an image of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers walking Dublin’s streets in a recognizable location. The Gas Company on D’Olier Street, now the Trinity College Dublin School of Midwifery, is one of the few well preserved examples of Art Deco in Dublin, and is open to the public. The association between the Gas Company and the Harlem on Parade show seems to have gone even further, judging by the Gas Company advert that ran in the Evening Herald; also note the interesting jazz-inspired window display.

satherald4sep1937harlemonparadecastphoto-recortado
‘Members of the “Harlem on Parade” company are interested in the Gas Company’s novel window display.’ (Saturday Herald, 4 September 1937), (source: Irish News Archive). Female figures left to right: Lucille Middleton and Naomi Waller, closest to the window. Male figures possibly include Frankie Manning, Billy Williams and Jerome, but the image is insufficiently clear to confirm.
harlemonparadeandgasheaterseh30august1937
Gas Company advert, (Evening Herald, 30 August 1937). (Source: Irish News Archive).

A Day at the Races

Harlem on Parade provided Dublin audiences with the first opportunity to see the Lindy Hop live but, interestingly, they might have already seen Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers on screen, only shortly after American audiences. The Marx Brothers’ film A Day at the Races, which featured a dance scene with a different Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers group, was released in June 1937 in the US and had a pre-London release in early August in Dublin at the Savoy Cinema (still Dublin’s foremost cinema today). The Harlem on Parade show arrived hot on its heels, and it is fun to imagine that it might even have been possible for Frankie to have seen the first Hollywood Lindy Hop performance while in Dublin, although there is no evidence to back this. A Day at the Races continued to tour Irish cinemas well into 1938.

dayattheraceseh7august1937ad
A Day at the Races advert (Evening Herald, 7 August 1937), (source: Irish News Archive).

From Dublin the Cotton Club Revue went on to Manchester before returning to the US in September 1937.

In the press:

The Evening Herald:

 “Harlem on Parade”, the show which comes to the Theatre Royal on August 30, has been acclaimed as the greatest cavalcade of coloured artists in the world. Following a sensational ten weeks’ appearance at the French capital, they were engaged for six weeks at the London Palladium, where they broke all box-office records.’’ (Evening Herald, 26 August 1937).

The Irish Independent:

Royal’s Outstanding Show: At the top of the bill is “Harlem on Parade”…This feature is well worth seeing. The fine singing of Rollin’ Smith in “Ole Man River”, and “Poor Old Joe,” and the dancing of Bill Bailey, are notable in the performance. Several new dances are presented. There is the “Lindy Hop” by Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs. Then there is the music of Teddy Hill and his orchestra from New York. (Irish Independent, 31 August 1937).

The Manchester Guardian:

Then the first crisp trumpet notes of the Teddy Hill’s band are heard through the curtain. Immediately the whole atmosphere changes, and the Cotton Club artists from New York set out show this benighted continent what hot jazz really is…Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs abandon themselves whole-heartedly to the primitive ebullience of the Lindy Hop. (Manchester Guardian, September 7 1937. Source: Proquest Historical Newspapers, the Guardian and the Observer).

Hugues Panassié (French jazz critic):

Whitey’s Hopper Maniacs are three couples who specialise in a dance called the lindy hop (the name comes from the Lindbergh hop), a dance which has been raging for some time in America. The six dancers are remarkable, in particular Naomi Waller and Lucille Middleton. It is difficult to give readers who have never seen the lindy hop an idea of what it looks like. It is the most dynamic dance in the world. The dancers throw their partners up in the air, jump in front of each other and perform the most unpredictable gags.  (Hugues Panassié, as quoted in This Thing Called Swing, p220).

Celebrating Frankie in Dublin

This research is an on-going project, and I welcome any further information other readers can add about Whitey’s Hopping Maniacs’ visit to Dublin or help identifying the members of the cast in the photos. I would like to thank Cynthia Millman in particular and the Frankie Manning Foundation for their encouragement and support. I would also like to thank the staff of Trinity College Library.

I am interested in commemorating Frankie’s visit and the Harlem on Parade show in Dublin next year, as 2017 would be the 80th anniversary. If you would like to get involved please contact me.

Karen Campos McCormack is a freelance translator and swing dance, music and history enthusiast. She is currently working on the Spanish translation of Norma Miller’s Swingin’ at the Savoy: the Memoir of a Jazz Dancer (Temple University Press). She is the founder of Compostela Swing and you can find more of her articles in English and Spanish on Atlantic Lindy Hopper.

Contact

Sources

Batchelor, Christian, This Thing Called Swing: Study of Swing Music and the Lindy Hop, the Original Swing Dance. Original Lindy Hop Collection, 1997. https://www.amazon.com/This-Thing-Called-Swing-Original/dp/0953063100

Brennan, Cathal, ‘The Anti-Jazz Campaign’, Irish History Online, 1 July 2011. http://www.irishhistoryonline.ie/

Devitt, David, ‘The Theatre Royal – A Palace of Cine-Variety’, History of Ireland, Vol. 21, No. 2 (March/April 2013).

Flashbak, ‘The Cotton Club Revue Visit London in 1937’, http://flashbak.com/the-cotton-club-revue-visit-london-in-1937-22484/

Fry, Andy, Paris Blues: African American Music and French Popular Culture, 1920-1960. University of Chicago Press, 2014. http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/P/bo18008923.html

Irish News Archive, https://www.irishnewsarchive.com/

Kerins, Des, ‘The Story of a Staircase’, Arthurlloyd.co.uk, http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Dublin/TheatreRoyalDublin/Staircase/TheatreRoyalDublinStaircase.htm

Lloyd, Mathew, ‘The Theatre Royal, Hawkins Street, Dublin’, Arthurlloyd.co.uk, http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Dublin/TheatreRoyalDublin/TheatreRoyalDublin.htm

Manning, Frankie & Millman, Cynthia R., Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007. http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1877_reg.html

Miller, Norma & Jensen, Evette, Swingin’ at the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996. http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1214_reg.html

Newspapers

Evening Herald, 7 August, 30 & 31 August 1937 (Irish news archive).

Manchester Guardian, 7 September 1937 (Proquest Historical Newspapers)

The Irish Independent, 31 August 1937 (Irish news archive).

The Irish Press, 30 & 31 August 1937 (Irish news archive).

Saturday Herald, 28 August and 4 September 1937 (Irish news archive).