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The Kid Should See This

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in Hellzapoppin’ (1941)

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From the 1941 movie Hellzapoppin’, watch this electrifying performance by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, the Savoy Ballroom‘s supreme swing dance group founded in 1935 by Herbert “Whitey” White.

The dancers, all credited at the end of the video: William Downes & Frances “Mickey” Jones, photo below; Billy Ricker & Norma Miller; Al Minns & Willa Mae Ricker; scene choreographer Frankie Manning & Ann Johnson.

The musicians, who open the scene, include duo Slim and Slam—Slim Gaillard on piano and guitar, Slam Stewart on bass—Rex Stewart on cornet, Elmer Fane on clarinet, Jap Jones on trombone, and C.P. Jonstone on drums.

Plus, some important context from Lindy Hop site Yehoodi:

Hellzapoppin‘ is one of the most iconic dance sequences ever to be put on film. It’s also a product of its time, including the racism of that era, which we should never forget.

“I think of Frankie and his teammates and what they must have known when they came together to shoot this scene – how they were going to be depicted in the film, how it might never be shown in parts of America. And yet they decided it was worth it to get their art out to the wider world. That makes me appreciate this scene even more…”

William Downes and Frances "Mickey" Jones

“In the plot of the film, delivery men are bringing over a set of instruments for a stage production. As they set them up backstage, one of them starts to play the piano. Others soon join in. Meanwhile, domestic workers and laborers nearby hear the music and come together backstage and start to dance.

“The dancers are dressed as cooks, maids, a butler or waiter, a driver, and a handyman or laborer. In the United States in the 1940s, those would be the kinds of jobs that African Americans could get, and thus the kinds of roles that white Americans would be accustomed to seeing them in. Still it must have been galling for the professional performers to appear in this way.”

Norma Miller and Billy Ricker in Helzapoppin
Norma Miller, above, was a Lindy Hop trailblazer all the way back to her childhood years. From her Washington Post obituary in 2019:

“As a young girl in Harlem, living across the street from the Savoy, she sat on her tenement’s fire escape to watch the ballroom’s windows, studying the shadows of dancers before replicating their steps in her living room.

“Her big break came in 1932, when she was 12. The dance sensation Twist Mouth George Ganaway spotted her dancing on the sidewalk outside the Savoy dressed for Easter Sunday services and invited her to join him for a matinee performance. Because of age restrictions, it was the first time Ms. Miller had stepped inside the dance hall.”

Norma Miller and Billy Ricker Her acrobatic flips, leaps, and twists helped popularize jitterbug and Lindy hop—named after aviator Charles A. Lindbergh’s “hop” from New York to Paris in 1927—on international tours and Hollywood movies in the 1930s and early ’40s, earning her “Queen of Swing” moniker.

You may also recognize Al Minns, below, from these classic clips with dance partner Leon James.

Al Minns and Willa Mae Ricker
There’s more swing in the archives.

Plus, don’t miss The Nicholas Brothers in another one of the greatest dance performances ever filmed.

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