Born May 26, 1914, in Jacksonville, FL, Legendary Savoy ballroom dancer, Tony-award winning choreographer and Lindy Hop ambassador, Frankie Manning, brought enthusiasm, joy, and innovation to changing the course of swing dancing during his career.
Manning died of pneumonia just a month short of his 95th birthday at New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital, on April 27, 2009.
Raised by his laundress mother, the family moved to Harlem when Frankie was 3. He tagged along when his mother danced at “rent parties” – neighborly fundraisers held to help friends pay the landlord.
The LA Times said, “Manning's chief innovation was popularizing the thrilling "air step" move in which a female partner is tossed in the air and lands in time with the music. After introducing this choreographic accent, sometimes called an "aerial," he and fellow Lindy hoppers developed dozens of others in which partners fling each other around, over and between various limbs. Manning created the over-the-back air step in 1935 at a weekly dance competition at the Savoy (in Harlem), and it became a sensation.”
Manning and partner Freida Washington won a dance contest at the Savoy contest by including his first acrobatic partner-toss. It’s thought that these dramatic flying moves, coming at the time of Lindbergh’s famous flight, inspired the name “Lindy Hop” because of their airborne qualities.
Some of the Savoy's finest dancers, including Manning, were recruited to join Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, a dance performance team that offered the pinnacle of swing dance. Manning toured the world with them from 1936-1943, becoming unofficial choreographer for the group.
Det. Naomi Waller and Frankie Manning. Photo courtesy www.frankiemanning.com
The detail above shows Whyte's Hopping Maniacs performing with "Le Cotton Club de New York" at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, summer 1937.
As part of the team, Manning played The Cotton Club and shared stage billing with performers like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and others.
The team performed before King George VI of England in 1937.
In the early 1930's, as word got around about the sensational swing dancing at the Savoy Ballroom, requests came from downtown socialites and rich folk who wanted to have Lindy Hoppers perform at their lavish parties. Whitey, who got to know the young dancers well, was able to hand pick exciting dancers who were also socially adept and reliable. They were invariably delighted to make a few dollars doing what they loved (Aren't we all?). A father figure to many of these dancers, Whitey would send them downtown to those fancy digs with the admonition, "Remember, ain't nobody better than you."
This advice must have come in handy in 1937, when a group of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers stood on line to shake hands with the Queen of England! This self-respect and pride permeated the Savoy Ballroom, one of the few places on earth where Blacks and whites could meet on the dance floor as equals.