Frankie Manning: In Memoriam

Temple University Press is saddened by the news that Frankie Manning author (with Cynthia Millman) of Frankie Manning passed away April 27 following complications from pneumonia. Here is a video of Frankie Manning swingin’

In this Q&A, Temple University Press author and swing dancer Frankie Manning looks back on his career, dispensing happy memories about his happy feet.

Q: You became interested in dancing at rent parties your mother took you to. How did you make dance your life’s calling? What appealed to you about it?
A: I wasn’t thinking of it as being important to me, but I was thinking about how much I enjoyed dancing—my friends and I getting together and having a wonderful time. The music was just so—I don’t know, what’s the word, exhilarating—that I wanted to dance to it. I had a regular job. I didn’t think I’d be a professional dancer. I didn’t feel professional until 1937, when I went into the Cotton Club. Then I thought, maybe there is something to this, and that people want to see me.

Q: You write about leaping between rooftops as a kid, and that being an athlete was a factor in creating the “air step” in the Lindy Hop. How did you develop this now-famous move than changed swing? Did you realize you were creating a sensation at the time?
A: At the time, no. I just started with a step—I wasn’t thinking that this was the first time anything like this had happened. I just though, I’d got a new step that will help me win this contest.

Q: Your fond memories of the Savoy describe a period of music and dance history that has never been equaled. What do you remember about that time?
A: What impressed me about the Savoy was that I had the opportunity to go to the Savoy at any time I wanted. It was my home. If there was a band that was rehearsing, we could go hang out and dance. It was a great place to be with my friends, exchange ideas about dancing. All of the top musicians would come there—Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, or Ethel Waters, Count Basie—to hear music and see the dancers. I got to dance with Ethel Waters quite a bit. I danced with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, and Pearl Bailey. I will always recall the very first time I started dancing with Duke Ellington’s orchestra, and he asked me for some music—and I didn’t have any! It was very special that all these people would come to the Savoy. It was a special place to everyone, but to me, it was my heaven.

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