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Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop by Frankie Manning and Cynthia R. Millman

A Swing Dancer enthusiast Cynthia R. Millman, who was inspired by the Lindy Hop's unrecorded history, has provoked an apparently ageless Frankie Manning into revealing his first hand knowledge of an African American dance phenomenon that was first popularized in 1920s Harlem dance halls.

Ms. Millman sums up Frankie Manning's accomplishments as: "His audience pleasing inventions helped catapult the Lindy from the social dance floor to stage and screen by highlighting a series of formal dance elements: By leaning forward diagonally from the hips; The first Air Step; Synchronized ensemble choreography; Slow-motion; Inserting brief freezes in the action; Creating music alternating eight bars of conga with eight bars of Lindy calling it 'Congaroo'; Choreographing with Cholly Atkins Henry LeTang and Fayard Nicholas "Black and Blue" in 1989 for Ruth Brown Linda Hopkins Carrie Smith Bunny Briggs Ralph Brown Lon Chaney Jimmy Slyde Diane Walker and Savion Glover(who was just a kid then) at New York's Minskoff Theatre for which they received a Tony Award.

And if that were not enough Ms. Millman created two books in one: Manning's autobiography and bulleted Dance History sections. The first being "The Charleston" in which "Ragtime pianist Willie The Lion Smith attributes its northward spread to Gullahs and Geechees peoples of South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands". Other added historic notes: The Cat's Corner - the northeast corner of The Savoy; including all the names of jazz steps - the shimmy mess around fishtail cakewalk and strut that became known in the 50's as "authentic jazz dancing" and another about African American soldiers' plight during the Second World War.

Wonderful bits in Frankie Manning's own vernacular. Find out what happened before he met the already famous Bill "Bojangles" Robinson; playing against Jimmy Lunceford's well-dressed basketball team; the first time he danced "professionally" at the Cotton Club; or how he choreographed the first Lindy Hop routine for a European tour with Cab Calloway's 1937 band.

Early in his dance career he performed in "Everybody Sings" with Judy Garland and "Hellzapoppin"" and toured with Ethel Waters Ella Fitzgerald Sarah Vaughn and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. In 1941 he was in Life Magazine. In 1986 he revived his own brand of dance when asked to do workshops and classes. And more recently consulted for Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" and Debbie Allen's "Stompin' at the Savoy" movies.

Swing celebrants now recognize Frankie Manning's major birthdays since the New York Swing Dance Society feted his 75th when he prophesied "Twenty-five years from now. I'll see you back." At his 80th films collected by Ernie Smith The Harlem Renaissance Orchestra and 750 people from 8 countries attended. His 85th at Roseland 89th and 90th on a Caribbean cruise organized by Christine Sampson "with a whole gang of swing dancers family and friends."

"Frankie" as everyone calls him currently serves on the Board of Directors of the New York Swing Dance Society where he is a part of their mission to preserve swing dancing to live Big Band music. Frankie's still an active dancer with an inspiring personality teaching generations of Lindy Hoppers. In the last chapter "Looking Back to the Future" he revealed "what I've wanted to see my whole life people from all over the world with smiles on their faces getting together to dance."

"A poet of the dance floor. . . . What a life he has lived and thank God he remembers it all!"
û Bette Midler student and fan

At the New York book signing event Jazz Museum in Harlem Director Loren Schoenberg interviewed Mr. Manning and Ms. Millman on Riverside Church's auditorium stage June 29th 2007. Both joyously retold a few of the same stories itemized above. Afterward Frankie Manning led a few hundred Harlem dancers to Shim Sham to "Stompin' at the Savoy" then adding his timely "Freeze" then "Dance" at just the right moments for the dancers. Leader saxophonist Schoenberg chose a diverse band of musicians for this occasion including Benny Goodman's trumpeter John Eckert and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra trumpeter Seneca Black. On clarinet and alto sax Jack Stuckey on baritone expert transcriber Mark Lopeman and an exceptional group of Juilliard students who read so well that they will be soon be considered veteran swing players. At nights end Frankie Manning reminded this audience of his promise to meet again for his 100th! Let's all plan to be there.

Dan Kassell
All Rights Reserved
June 30 2007

Book Cover:
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Additional Info

  • Book Title: Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop
  • Author: Frankie Manning and Cynthia R. Millman
  • Publisher: Temple University
  • Year Published: 2007
  • Book Type:: Autobiography
  • ISBN: 1592135633
  • Rating: Five Stars
  • Number of Pages: 312
Dan Kassell

Dan Kassell expands his curiosity by attending concerts, conventions, lectures and movies to take note of the History of Jazz from the indigenous Caribes in the Caribbean to Algiers New Orleans, Chicago and New York. As a member of the Jersey Jazz Society since 1972 he's witnessed musicians who learned from jazz's founders. Reviews also appear in AllAboutJazz.com, Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com and historically in AllAboutJazz-New York, Mississippi Rag or Jersey Jazz since 1972.

First inspired by Thomas "Fats" Waller playing "Your Feet's Too Big," Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, Louis Armstrong solos, Duke Ellington's Famous Orchestra and Bob Wilber with Marty Gross and Kenny Davern's Soprano Summit he's also became fascinated by the spontaneous improvisation of Free Jazz while working on publicity for Chico Freeman.

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