Sunday, May 26, was WORLD LINDY HOP DAY. The date was chosen in honor of the birth of the great FRANKIE MANNING, the dancer who more than any other embodied the spirit and history of our dance and whose contribution has remained unmatched.
Why does World Lindy Hop Day fall on May 26th? Happy Birthday Frankie Manning
In contrast to many other contributions from the calendar of the curious world days, the background and origins of World Lindy Hop are relatively well documented. Let’s start with the chosen date as the most important information. Because May 26th is the birthday of Frankie Manning (1914 – 2009), one of the dazzling and formative figures of this dance.
WORLD LINDY HOP DAY – Lindy Hop – a brief history of the forerunner of swing
Today we celebrate him by listening to a great classic that was his favorite piece, SHINY STOCKINGS, by COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA, and in the words of Frankie himself. In this passage from his autobiography, the dancer combines his memories with those of NORMA MILLER to tell the background of an exceptional evening: January 16, 1938, two legendary bands compete in the Harlem ballroom that made the history of Lindy Hop, the Savoy. Read to the end …
“Another great night was when Count Basie, with Billie Holiday, took on Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald. The “battle” took place on the same date as the famous Benny Goodman concert at Carnagie Hall. I didn’t go to the concert, but we all knew it was taking place.
Jazz historian Phil Schaap told me that Count Basie and a couple of his musicians (Lester Young and Buck Clayton) were actually at Carnagie Hall that night, because they had been invited for some songs. Duke Ellington played in place of Basie at the Savoy for the first part of the night. I must have arrived late in the ballroom, because I don’t remember seeing him. When I arrived there was Basie playing. Basie’s records had started coming out the previous year, they were still new and their popularity was growing.
I was already part of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and I remember Snookie Beasley, another member of the band, arriving at the Savoy with a new Basie record saying, “Frankie, you MUST listen to this.” Chick Webb was still our man, but we thought Basie really had a lot of swing. The sound of his band was unique. Some of the Lindy Hoppers preferred Chick, but others, myself included, leaned towards Basie. The two factions enjoyed teasing each other to support their favorite: “Hey, guys from Chick Webb, Basie’s musicians are gonna blow you away.” “No, Chick will kick Basie in the ass.” “Okay, you dance with Chick, we dance with Basie.” It went on like this until the moment of the challenge.
So he said, “I don’t care about those damn Lindy Hoppers, we don’t need them.” Whitey was standing there, when Chick turned around he saw him and added, “Yeah I said it and I’ll repeat it. What are you going to do with it? ” Whitey didn’t say anything at the moment, but word got out that Lindy Hopper weren’t supposed to dance when Chick Webb was playing. We had all looked forward to the evening with trepidation, but if Whitey said we had to avoid doing something, we went along with it. None of Whitey’s dancers got up for the “home” band that night, but they started dancing as soon as it was Basie’s band’s turn. Eventually Buchanan helped Chick and Whitey reconcile and the Lindy Hoppers started dancing with both bands, but Whitey was able to flex his muscles and keep the point. It was as if he said to Chick Webb:
As I said, I heard this story from Norma, but I remember both Basie and Webb’s bands swinging, and I danced with more energy than ever that night. And yes, as far as I’m concerned, Basie won. It was the only time anyone outclassed Chick Web on that stage. We said then that the Alhambra was like elementary school, the Reinassance like high school, and the Savoy, well, that was big stuff. Going there was like going to college.
The Savoy was a home for me and my friends. I woke up in the morning and couldn’t wait to go there. It was a warm place that enveloped you. For me the Savoy was heaven. When I die, if I go to heaven, I wish it was like the Savoy. “