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.

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.


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).

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

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.

‘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.
‘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.

‘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.
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.

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.



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


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).


El Savoy, donde empezó todo


Me he preguntado cómo empezar este blog, pero en realidad la respuesta es simple: debo comenzar con el Savoy en Harlem — donde la música y el baile Swing nacieron, prosperaron y se hicieron mundialmente famosos.  Y el rey entre los bailes swing de la época era el Lindy Hop (también conocido como jitterbug).   El Lindy Hop, el swing y todo lo vintage vuelven a estar de moda – y es importante recordar sus raíces.  Subir la escalinata de mármol y espejos del Savoy, y entrar así en el mejor salón de baile del mundo es un buen sitio para empezar…

Una multitud se reúne delante del Savoy Ballroom, un importante foco cultural y local emblemático del barrio de Harlem (Photograph © Bettmann/Corbis. http://www.danceheritage.org/savoy.html
Una multitud se reúne delante del Savoy Ballroom, un importante foco cultural y local emblemático del barrio de Harlem (Photograph © Bettmann/Corbis. http://www.danceheritage.org/savoy.html

El Savoy era más que un salón de baile – era el corazón palpitante de Harlem. Aquí es dónde los mejores músicos y bailarines se juntaron para crear el swing.  Era el mayor y más elegante salón de baile en Harlem.  Para empezar estaba a otra escala en comparación a las otras salas, ocupando una manzana entera desde la calle 140 a la 141, unos 250 por 50 pies (1161m2) — podía dar cabida a miles de personas sobre la pista de baile: más de 5000 personas asistieron a su apertura la noche del 12 de marzo 1926 con la banda de Fletcher Henderson.

Así es cómo Frankie Manning, la gran leyenda del Lindy Hop, describió su primera visita al Savoy cuando tenía unos 19 años:

“Mientras subía los escalones que llevaban al salón de baile podía escuchar la música swing que se colaba por la escalera, y empezó a calar en mi cuerpo…llegué al último escalón, atravesé la doble puerta, y me paré por un momento de espaldas al escenario, asimilándolo todo. Cuando me di la vuelta y miré la sala de frente…bueno, simplemente me quedé parado con la boca abierta. Toda la pista estaba llena de gente y ¡estaban bailando! ¡La banda estaba aporreando! ¡Los tíos ahí subidos estaban aullando! La música era una pasada. Todo el mundo estaba moviéndose y meneándose…Empezamos a decir “Esto es el paraíso del baile”. Hasta parecía que el suelo se estaba animando porque también botaba arriba y abajo.”

Harlem se había convertido en un lugar de moda para la sociedad blanca del centro neoyorquino durante los años 20.  Harlem, un barrio de Nueva York mayoritariamente negro, experimentó un gran influjo de migrantes negros provenientes del Sur en las primeras décadas del siglo XX, cuando miles de personas huían de la terrible opresión del Sur en busca de nuevas oportunidades. Harlem ofrecía una promesa de libertad y orgullo, y se convirtió en un punto de encuentro para la creatividad y la cultura negras – en la música, el arte, la literatura y la política, durante un período conocido como el Renacimiento de Harlem (Harlem Renaissance).  A pesar de que era conocido como el barrio “Negro”, la segregación racial era aparente (como era el caso en diferente grado en todo Estados Unidos en aquella época) y la mayoría de los famosos clubes nocturnos eran exclusivamente para clientela blanca: el Cotton Club, el Apollo (que aún sigue en pie) etc. presentaban actuaciones con artistas negros, pero las personas negras no podían acceder como público por la entrada principal o mezclarse con la clientela blanca.   La segregación y la discriminación eran problemas aún mayores fuera de Nueva York – cuando el grupo de Lindy Hoppers de Whitey o las bandas de músicos iban de gira era a menudo difícil encontrar locales que les sirvieran comida o les ofrecieran alojamiento. Billie Holidy describe incontables incidentes en sus memorias, incluyendo la dificultad para encontrar lavabos que le permitieran utilizar, un pequeño ejemplo de los enormes retos a los que se enfrentaban.

El Savoy era único por ser un local no segregado – clientes negros y blancos podían asistir, sentarse, comer, beber y bailar juntos – “por primera vez en la historia se estaba cuestionando el status quo” comenta Norma Miller.  Frankie Manning ha dicho que no importaba si eras negro o blanco, verde, amarillo o lo que sea, sólo importaba si sabías bailar.   Creo que este espíritu inclusivo se refleja en el Lindy Hop y es un elemento clave de este baile alegre, de su legado y de cómo lo disfrutamos hoy en día.

El Savoy era el salón de baile más elegante de Harlem y superaba a todas las mejores salas de baile de América.  Era deslumbrante, en las palabras de Norma Miller “el salón de baile estaba decorado en dorado y azul con focos de colores. En los laterales se alineaban los reservados para tomar algo de comer o beber. La zona de baile…ocupaba el largo de una manzana, la pista en sí era un piso de madera hecho de muchas capas, como caoba y arce…lo reponían cada tres años, desgastado por el machaque constante [de los bailarines]”.

La música…y el baile

Chick Webb vs Count Basie, with Billie Holiday, Savoy

La música nunca paraba en el Savoy, había dos escenarios para las bandas, y uno de ellos siempre estaba tocando. Norma Miller recuerda escuchar la música desde la escalera de incendios de su edificio, y más tarde empezaría a bailar en la acera delante del Savoy.  Chick Webb era el líder habitual de la banda de la casa, y la suya era la banda favorita de los Lindy Hoppers.  A lo largo de los años siguientes más de 200 bandas de swing tocaron en el Savoy — había batallas de bandas legendarias entre bandas invitadas como la de Cab Calloway, Count Basie o Benny Goodman (que sólo tocó una vez en el Savoy pero visitaba a menudo) y la banda de Chick.  Para las batallas de bandas más famosas la cola daba la vuelta a varias manzanas — y eran los bailarines los que decidían el éxito de una banda.  El Savoy también fue clave en lanzar las carreras de varias cantantes famosas como Ella Fitzgerald, que fue elegida por Chick para cantar para su banda, y que continuó al frente de la banda después de la muerte de Chick en 1939. Chick Webb grabó Stompin’ at the Savoy en 1934. Aqui está Ella Fitzgerald con la orquesta de Chick Webb tocando St Louis Blues en el Savoy en algún momento de 1939.

En aquellos tiempos las bandas tocaban para los bailarines, y si querían quedarse tenían que mantener la pista llena, según Frankie Manning.  Jacqui Malone ha escrito un artículo muy interesante en Jazz Music in Motion:  Dancers and Big Bands donde defiende que hay que recuperar conciencia de la estrecha relación entre el baile y el desarrollo de la música jazz y swing “Noche tras noche, los bailarines y músicos del Savoy se incitaban unos a otros a llegar más alto, más profundo – siempre con una actitud de elegancia.” Duke Ellington comentaba “Empiezas a tocar y los bailarines empiezan a bailar ¡y tienen un ritmo tan fantástico que sólo tienes que agarrarte!”.

De esta estrecha colaboración con Chick Webb y otras swing bands nació el Lindy Hop. El Lindy Hop es un baile gozoso con mucha improvisación y un ritmo sincopado de 8 compases. Para todos los lindy hoppers que me leéis no necesito aportar más explicación. Evolucionó a partir de otros bailes de la época como el Charleston con el breakaway (paso separado), que permite mayor improvisación, e introdujo el swing-out, su paso estrella. Herbert White, el jefe de sala del Savoy, reunió a los bailarines de Lindy Hop con más talento para formar los Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers y otros grupos de baile.  El Lindy Hop se popularizó por toda América y el extranjero gracias en gran parte a Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers –que estuvieron de gira por Europa, Australia y Brasil, además de aparecer en varias películas y de figurar en la Expo de Nueva York de 1939.

Frankie Manning, una leyenda en la comunidad swing del que hablaremos con más detalle en otro post, fue uno de los bailarines de Whitey; fue un innovador y un coreógrafo clave que influyó en el estilo característico del baile, casi horizontal, y al crear con su pareja de baile de entonces los primeros pasos acrobáticos aéreos (conocidos como airsteps). Es también la inspiración que ha conducido el redescubrimiento del Lindy Hop en todo el mundo desde los años 90, y la inspiración tras el espíritu inclusivo de la comunidad swing.  El Lindy Hop no era el único baile que se bailaba en el Savoy, y otros bailes populares incluían el Shag, el Fox Trot, el Peabody, el Black Bottom, la Big Apple, el Shim Sham etc. pero tal vez sea el baile con el impacto más duradero, tal y como es sentido a diario por miles de Lindy Hoppers modernos en todo el mundo.

Aqui hay uno de los pocos clips de baile social en el Savoy.

…y más

El Savoy era más que un salón de baile, también cumplía la función de centro cívico de la comunidad negra en Harlem: aquí había a menudo eventos de gala de la comunidad los miércoles y los viernes, el ´Club de los 400´ y otras asociaciones de Harlem se reunían aquí y Adam Clayton Powell era cliente habitual. Tras los disturbios de 1935 se pensó que el Savoy era demasiado importante como para permanecer cerrado y se crearon las competiciones de baile del Harvest Moon Ball en un intento de remontar la moral dañada de la comunidad negra.   A pesar de ser un barrio mayoritariamente negro, la patria del Nuevo Negro y el Harlem Renaissance, Harlem era en su mayoría propiedad de gente blanca y muchos negocios no contrataban personal negro, contribuyendo a los disturbios que tuvieron lugar durante la Depresión. Es en este contexto que se hace más evidente el valor del Savoy como un local que empleaba y acogía a un personal y una clientela diversa – incluyendo desde los chavales del barrio a estrellas de Hollywood.

El Savoy abrió sus puertas en 1926 y cerró en 1958. Apenas hay ninguna gran banda de jazz que no tenga asociación con el Savoy, incluyendo bandas negras y blancas. Para bailarines de Lindy Hop como Frankie Manning, Norma Miller y muchos más se convirtió en un segundo hogar, “el hogar de los pies felices” (home of happy feet) como era conocido.  Ayudó a crear y popularizar la música más americana por excelencia, el swing, y un baile verdaderamente americano, el Lindy Hop. El Savoy era visita obligada en Harlem — y Harlem era donde tenías que estar en los años 20 y 30. Según Romare Bearden (artista) “Allí era donde mejor se bailaba en el mundo, y donde estaba la mejor música…Querrías estar en Harlem o Paris. Estos eran los dos lugares donde estaban ocurriendo cosas.”

¿y qué sería un post sobre el Savoy sin música? Aquí va una pequeña selección:

El Savoy abrió en 1926 y cerró permanentemente en 1958. Fue demolido para construir una promoción de viviendas. Frankie Manning y Norma Miller inauguraron una placa conmemorativa el 26 de mayo 2002, el día del 88 cumpleaños de Frankie.

Leer más

Hay mucho material sobre el Savoy. Yo recomendaría empezar por las biografías de Frankie Manning y Norma Miller para una visión personal de cómo era el Savoy. Hay algunos materiales documentales disponibles en youtube (por ejemplo El Savoy). Estas son algunas de las fuentes que utilicé, no es ni mucho una lista completa de todo lo que está disponible.

Burns, Ken, Jazz (serie de televisión y DVD, disponible en español e inglés)(PBS, 2000) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_(TV_series)

Malone, Jaqui, ‘Jazz Music in Motion’, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, Chapter 18. Ed. Robert G. O’Meally. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Manning, Frankie & Millman, Cynthia, Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.

Miller, Norma, Swingin’ at the Savoy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Seisdedos, Iker, Cuando Harlem era una fiesta. El País, 5 Febrero 2015.

Stearns, Marshall & Jean, Jazz Dance: the Story of American Vernacular Dance, New York: Macmillan, 1968.

The Studio Museum in Harlem, Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America (Times Mirror Books, New York: 1987).

The Savoy Plaque http://www.savoyplaque.org/

The Savoy King (Documental), http://www.savoyking.com/ . Extracto del documental, The Savoy ballroom https://youtu.be/Mqsc0dhoED0

Citas de

Malone, Jaqui, Jazz Music in Motion, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture Chapter 18.

Manning, Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop.

Miller, Swingin’ at the Savoy.

The Savoy, where it all began


I have wondered how to start this blog, but really the answer is simple: I must start at the Savoy in Harlem – where Swing music and dance was born, thrived and became world famous. And king amongst the swing dances of the age was the Lindy Hop (also known as jitterbug). Lindy Hop, swing and all things vintage are back in vogue again – and it is important to remember its origins. Stepping up the Savoy’s marble and mirror staircase into the finest ballroom in the world is a good place to start…

Savoy, Harlem 1952
A crowd gathered outside the Savoy Ballroom, a major cultural hub and landmark for the Harlem neighborhood.(Photograph © Bettmann/Corbis. http://www.danceheritage.org/savoy.html

The Savoy was more than a ballroom – it was the beating heart of Harlem. Here is where the best musicians and dancers came together to create swing. It was the largest and most elegant ballroom in Harlem. For a start it was on a different scale to other ballrooms, occupying a whole block from 140th to 141st street, about 250ft by 50ft with two bandstands – it could fit thousands on the dance floor, over 5,000 attended on its opening night on 12 March 1926[i] with Fletcher Henderson’s band.

This is how Frankie Manning, the great Lindy Hop legend, described his first visit to the Savoy when he was about nineteen:

‘As I was climbing the steps that led to the ballroom, I could hear the swinging music coming down the stairwell, and it started seeping right into my body…I got to the top step, went through the double doors, and stopped for a moment with my back to the bandstand, taking it all in. When I turned around and faced the room…well I just stood there with my mouth open. The whole floor was full of people –and they were dancing! The band was pounding! The guys up there were wailing! The music was rompin’ and stompin’. Everybody was movin’ and groovin’….We started saying ‘’This is dancin’ heaven’’. It even looked like the floor was getting in the mood because it was bouncing up and down too.’

Harlem had become a popular night spot for downtown white society during the 20s. Harlem, a predominantly black neighbourhood in New York experienced a huge influx of black migrants from the South in the early 20th Century decades as thousands fled from terrible oppression looking for new opportunities. Harlem provided a promise of freedom and pride, and it became a hotspot for black creativity and culture – in music, art, literature and politics, in a period known as the Harlem Renaissance. But although it was ostensibly the ‘Negro’ neighbourhood, it was also notably segregated (as was the case throughout the US to different degrees at the time), most of the famous nightclubs were for white patrons only: the Cotton Club, the Apollo (which is still standing today) etc. would feature black performers but black people could not use the main entrance or mix with the white audience.  Segregation and discrimination were even greater problems outside of New York – when Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers or bands and musicians went on tour it was often difficult to find places that would serve them food or provide accommodation. Billie Holiday describes countless incidents in her memoirs, including the difficulty in finding rest rooms she could use, just one small example of the challenges they faced.

The Savoy was unique as it was not segregated – black and white patrons could attend, sit, eat and drink and dance together, ‘for the first time in history the status quo was challenged’ states Norma Miller. Frankie Manning has said that it didn’t matter whether you were black or white, green, yellow or whatever, just whether you could dance.  I think this inclusive spirit is reflected in Lindy Hop and is a key feature of this joyful dance, of its legacy and how we enjoy this dance nowadays.

The Savoy was the most elegant ballroom in Harlem and surpassed all of America’s top dance halls. It was dazzling, as described by Norma Miller: ‘the ballroom itself was decorated in gold and blue with colored spotlights. The walls were lined with booths for eating and drinking. The dance area was…the length of a city block, the dancefloor itself was made of many layers of hardwood, such as mahogany and maple…it was replaced every three years, worn out by the constant pounding [of the dancers]’.

The music…and the dance

Chick Webb vs Count Basie, with Billie Holiday, Savoy
Advertisement for a battle of the bands between Chick Webb and Count Basie, with Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

The music never stopped at the Savoy, there were two bandstands and one of them was always playing. Norma Miller recalls listening to this music from her home’s fire escape as a child, and later she started dancing on the pavement outside the Savoy. Chick Webb usually led the house band, and he was Lindy Hoppers’ favourite band. Over the next few years over 200 hundred swing bands played the Savoy – there were legendary battles between visiting bands like Cab Calloway’s, Count Basie’s or Benny Goodman’s (who only played the Savoy once but visited often) and Chick’s band. For top band battles the queue would go round several blocks – and it was the dancers who made a band’s success. The Savoy was also key in launching the careers of famous singers like Ella FitzGerald, who was picked by Chick to sing for his band, and continued to lead the band after his death in 1939. Chick Webb recorded Stompin’ at the Savoy in 1934. Here is Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb’s orchestra playing St Louis Blues at the Savoy, sometime in 1939.

Back then bands played for dancers, and if they wanted to stay they had to keep the floor packed according to Frankie Manning. Jacqui Malone has written a very interesting article on Jazz Music in Motion: Dancers and Big Bands which argues for re-claiming the close connection between dance and the development of jazz and swing music ‘Night after night, the dancers and musicians at the Savoy spurred one another on to greater heights and greater depths- always with an attitude of elegance’. Duke Ellington commented ‘You start playing, the dancers start dancing, and they have such a great beat you just hang on!’.

Out of this close collaboration with Chick Webb’s and other swing bands the Lindy Hop was born. The Lindy Hop is a joyous improvisational dance with a syncopated 8 count beat. For all the lindy hoppers reading this I do not need to provide further explanation. It evolved from other dances of the era with the breakaway, which allowed more room for improvisation, and introduced the swing-out, its star step. Herbert White, the Savoy floor manager, brought together the most talented Lindy Hoppers to form Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and other dance troupes. The Lindy Hop was popularized all over America and overseas thanks mainly to Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers – touring Europe, Australia and Brazil as well as appearing in several films and the 1939 New York World Fair.

Frankie Manning, a legend in the swing community who we will speak about more in another post, was one of Whitey’s dancers; he was a key innovator and choreographer, influencing the dance’s characteristic near-horizontal style and creating the first acrobatic airsteps with his dance partner. He has also been the inspiration leading the Lindy Hop worldwide revival since the 90s and contributing to the inclusive spirit of the swing community. The Lindy Hop was not the only dance danced at the Savoy and other popular dances included the Shag, the Fox Trot, the Peabody, the Black Bottom, the Big Apple, the Shim Sham etc. but it has perhaps had the most lasting impact, as experienced daily by thousands of modern Lindy Hoppers the world-over.

Here is some rare footage of dancing at the Savoy from a newsreel: Dancing at the Savoy

…and more

The Savoy was not only a ballroom, it also had a role as a civic centre for the black community in Harlem: there were regular community gala events on Wednesday and Friday nights, the ‘400 Club’ and other Harlem fraternities and associations met there and Adam Clayton Powell was a regular patron. Following the riots in 1935 it was felt the Savoy was too important to be closed and the Harvest Moon Ball competitions were created in an effort to re-build the damaged morale of the black community.  Despite it being a predominantly black neighbourhood, the home of the New Negro and the Harlem Renaissance, Harlem was mainly owned by white people and many Harlem businesses did not employ black people, contributing to these riots in the midst of the Depression. In this context the value of the Savoy as a venue that employed and welcomed a diversity of patrons – from local kids to Hollywood starts – becomes more apparent.

The Savoy opened in 1926 and closed in 1958. There is scarcely a big jazz band name that is not associated with the Savoy, including black and white bands. For the Lindy Hoppers like Frankie Manning and Norma Miller and many others it became a second home, the ‘home of happy feet’ as it was known.  It helped create and popularize the most quintessentially American music, swing, and a truly American dance, Lindy Hop. The Savoy was the place to be in Harlem – and Harlem was the place to be in the 20s and 30s. In the words of Romare Bearden (artist) ‘The best dancing in the world was there, and the best music…You’d want to be either in Harlem then or in Paris. These were the two places where things were happening.’

And what would a post about the Savoy be without music? Here is a selection of tracks:

The Savoy opened in 1926 and closed permanently in 1958. It was demolished for the construction of a housing complex. A conmemoration plaque was inaugurated on 26 May 2002 by Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, on Frankie’s 88th Birthday.

More reading

There is plenty of material about the Savoy. I would recommend starting with Frankie Manning’s and Norma Miller’s biographies for a personal account of what the Savoy was like. These are some of the sources I used, by no means a full list of what is available. Some video documentary material is also available on youtube (The Savoy ballroom).

Burns, Ken, Jazz (TV and DVD series, PBS, 2000) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_(TV_series)

Malone, Jaqui, ‘Jazz Music in Motion’, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, Chapter 18. Ed. Robert G. O’Meally. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Manning, Frankie & Millman, Cynthia, Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.

Miller, Norma, Swingin’ at the Savoy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Seisdedos, Iker, ‘Cuando Harlem era una fiesta’. El País, 5 February, 2015.

Stearns, Marshall & Jean, Jazz Dance: the Story of American Vernacular Dance, New York: Macmillan, 1968

The Studio Museum in Harlem, Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America. New York: Times Mirror Books,1987.

The Savoy Plaque http://www.savoyplaque.org/

The Savoy King Documentary, http://www.savoyking.com/ . Extract from the documentary, The Savoy ballroom https://youtu.be/Mqsc0dhoED0

Quotes from:
Malone, Jaqui, Jazz Music in Motion, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, Chapter 18.
Manning, Frankie, Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop.
Miller, Norma, Swingin’ at the Savoy.