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The Frankie Manning Timeline
by Sally MacAdams
By Sally MacAdams
I have compiled this brief timeline drawing heavily on the many websites dedicated to the history of swing dancing, and on my own memories of the stories Frankie told at his Adelaide workshop last year. Please see my list of sources below.
The life of Frankie Manning so far…
Frankie Manning was born on the 26th of May, 1914, in Jacksonville, Florida. According to Frankie, his mother, a party lady, told him that even before he was born he used to kick in time to the music when she went out dancing. At the age of three, Frankie moved with his family to Harlem in New York City.
The Savoy Ballroom opened and became the home of a new popular style of dance that would later be called Lindy Hop. At this time Frankie was still a youngster, and danced in the Alhambra, Outhammer and Renaissance ballrooms for years before moving on to the Savoy, where some of the founders of Lindy Hop, such as George Shorty Snowden and Leroy Jones were still dancing. Unlike many venues in those days, the Savoy was open to both Blacks and Whites. Norma Miller described it as a melting pot of different ethnic groups where colour wasnt important. As Frankie put it: If you walked in the Savoy, the only thing we wanted to know is can you dance?
It is to this year that many trace the invention of the Lindy Hop. George Snowden named the dance after Charles Lindbergh, who had just made his transatlantic flight, so the story goes.
Herbert Whitey White established a group of professional performers gathered from the best dancers in the Savoy scene, including Frankie, who was his chief choreographer. It was also at this time that Frankie invented the first airstep and performed it with his partner Frieda to the amazement of a huge crowd at a Saturday night dance competition at the Savoy. And so Frankie and Frieda won the dance-off with their predecessors and heroes, Shorty George and Big B.
The Marx Brothers comedy, A Day at the Races, was the first of many Hollywood films that Whiteys dancers appeared in. Frankie choreographed their scene, but was unable to perform in it due to his commitments with another of Whiteys dance troupes, Whiteys Hopping Maniacs. Frankie also got third place in the Harvest Moon Ball competition in this year.
Toured Europe and performed for European royalty
Toured Australia and New Zealand, including Melbourne, with the Big Apple dancers.
Started dancing with Ann Johnson, whom he later described as his favourite dance partner.
Hellzapoppin’ with Whiteys dancers performing one of the most famous Lindy routines on film, was released. Also in this year Frankie was profiled by Life magazine. It was around this time that Frankie joined the army as Americas involvement in WWII began.
Frankie came out of the army and started dancing again. He formed his own dance troupe called the Congaroos.
Frankie got married and settled down. In the following year he got a job at the post office and worked there for the next thirty years!
The Savoy Ballroom came down. It had closed due to rising taxes and band fees. There is still to this day no monument to mark the spot that has such significance to the history of swing dancing, a fact Frankie is trying to change.
Was contacted by Erin Stevens and worked closely with her and Steven Mitchell, teaching them the style of dance that he had learned back at the Savoy, the original Lindy Hop. Since then, Frankie has taught it to countless people around the world both directly through his own workshops and indirectly through the burgeoning network of dancers, beginning with Mitchell and Stevens, who have sought to pass on his legacy. Frankie has worked with many groups worldwide including the Rhythm Hot Shots of Sweden and has even taught with his son, Charles Chazz Young, who specialises in tap and other jazz dances.
Received a Tony Award for Choreography in the Broadway musical Black & Blue.
Malcolm X was released and included a Lindy Hop scene recreating the Savoy, choreographed by Frankie. Frankie performed in this scene as well as training members of the cast, including Denzel Washington. He commented in Perth last year that Denzel was a total natural and did all those aerials himself.
Frankie celebrated his 80th birthday with hundreds of fans at his Cant Top the Lindy Hop event. It was here that he received the National Endowment for the Arts Grant for choreography.
Frankie was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship.
Many Swing Patrollers had their first brush with Frankie when he taught workshops in Adelaide and Perth.
Frankie returns to Melbourne!
Dies April 27th New York.
(As sourced by Ben Williamson)