Frankie Manning was a dance legend: Lindy Hop Ambassador, Dancer, Choreographer, Instructor and Inspiration. He passed away on, April 27th, 2009 from complications from pneumonia. He was 94 years old.
Frankie Manning was born in 1914 in Jacksonville, Florida, but moved to Harlem in the early 1930’s as a youngster. He discovered Lindy Hop in the famed Savoy Ballroom and quickly made a name for himself among the elite dancers in the “Cats Corner” of the ballroom. He eventually became a founding member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and choreographed many of the routines they performed on stage and in films such as Hellzapoppin’, A Day at the Races and Radio City Revels.
In 1935, Manning and partner Freda Washington amazed the crowd at the Savoy during a contest by performing the first “air-step”, an over the back move that had never been tried before. It was the first aerial ever done for Lindy. After years of touring with Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, Frankie served his country honorably during World War II. After the end of the war, he formed his own dance troupe called The Congaroos, but the country’s changing taste in music forced the group to disband, and Frankie settled into a career with the United States Postal Service.
Frankie’s contribution to Lindy Hop may have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the revival of Swing Dancing in the early 1980’s and the efforts of Steven Mitchell and (then partner) Erin Stevens to lure a very reluctant Frankie out of retirement. Frankie taught Lindy to Steven and Erin, as well as to the founding members of Sweden’s elite dance troupe, The Rhythm Hot Shots. After being invited to the Herrang Dance Camp, a month-long Lindy Hop dance camp in Sweden, Frankie suddenly found himself in demand again as an instructor and historian, traveling all over the world to introduce new generations to the Lindy Hop.
Hollywood and Broadway also came calling, and Frankie once again choreographed pieces for stage and screen. In 1989 he won a Tony Award for his choreography in the production of Black and Blue. He served as consultant and performed in Spike Lee’s movie Malcolm X. He was also featured in Ken Burns’ documentary Jazz and received the National Endowment of the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. In 2007, Frankie’s Autobiography Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop was released to rave reviews and adoration from thousands of dancers.
In recent years the Lindy Hop community showed their appreciation for Frankie at several birthday celebrations around the world. His 80th birthday (1994) was commemorated by a weekend-long celebration in New York City; his 85th culminated in a sold out party at New York's Roseland Ballroom, where a pair of his dance shoes were placed in a showcase along with those of dancers such as Fred Astaire. Dedicated cruises out of Florida were organized for his 89th and 90th birthdays. For his birthday dances, Frankie followed his custom of dancing with one woman for every year of his life during his birthday jam, and leading the whole room in an enthusiastic rendition of the Shim Sham.
Before his passing, Frankie was planning to celebrate his 95th birthday in New York City over Memorial Day weekend; proceeds from the event will be used to create a Frankie Manning Foundation. At this time there is no word if that event will continue as a memorial; information about an official memorial will be announced over the next few days.
Frankie Manning is survived by his son Chazz, his partner Judy Pritchett, and thousands of grateful friends, fans and lovers of Lindy Hop all over the globe.