This is the grave of Frankie Manning.
Born in 1914 in Jacksonville, Florida, Manning grew up in a dance-loving household. His family was relatively wealthy for the southern Black world of that era and so his mother knew ballroom dancing. But the family also enjoyed more popular dancing and encouraged their young son in his enjoyment of dance. As a young man, Manning moved to New York, where he attended as many formal dance events as he could, though that wasn’t that many because of his race in a segregated world. He rose quickly in the dance world of New York.
Then, in 1935, Manning and his dance partner Frieda Washington won an early Lindy Hop competition, defeating its inventor, George Snowden. They did so by performing the first aerial in a swing dance competition. The Lindy Hop soon became a sensation and perhaps no one did more to promote it than Manning. He was the effective choreographer for Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, which was an elite dance troupe that toured around the nation popularizing the dance and getting huge crowds to see them. They also did a bunch of films such as 1941’s Hellzapoppin. I can understand the popularity. It’s not really my thing, but watching how the Lindy Hoppers threw each other around the room in an increasingly acrobatic genre is quite something.
By World War II, the Lindy Hop was getting to the point of being old hat and out of fashion. It happens. Moreover, most of the men in the troupe got drafted, including Manning, who was in the Army for awhile, though I don’t think he saw combat. After the war, Manning created the Congaroos, a new troupe that kept up the old style for those who were interested. That lasted until 1955, when it disbanded and Manning went to work for the Postal Service to earn a living.
The Lindy Hop was pretty well forgotten until the 1980s, when it experienced something of a revival. This led to the rediscovery of Manning and other living members of that craze. Manning once again could teach the dance and a lot of people wanted to learn. This led to some serious late life success for Manning, not to mention all the much needed and deserved money it led to. The Lindy Hop revival wasn’t just an American thing. It also got big in Europe and he traveled there too. He visited Australia in 1939 with the original band and then again to perform the dance in….2002, a mere 63 years later! He also won a Tony Award in 1989 for his choreography on Black and Blue, a musical about interwar Black dance. He published his autobiography in 2007.
Manning danced until the very end of his life, including a big party when he turned 94, when he danced with 94 different women. He died shortly before his 95th birthday, in 2009.
Let’s watch some Frankie Manning.
Frankie Manning is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.
If you would like this series to visit other dancers, and who doesn’t want to hear my analysis of dance, you can donate here to cover the required expenses. Fred Astaire is in Los Angeles and Gregory Hines is in Oakville, Ontario. Previous posts in this series are archived here.