Swinging at the Savoy

Big band jazz was also known as swing. Swing dance developed in the segregated dance halls and ballrooms of New York City, such as the famous Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Avenue and 140th Street. Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, who you see in the film below, were the professional dance team at the Savoy. Note that the dancers are dressed in the uniforms of black workers of the 1930s: the men are cooks, maintenance workers, delivery men, while the women are dressed as domestic servants.

Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in a short film with Duke Ellington and his Orchestra:

The Savoy was the first integrated ballroom.

The great singer Ella Fitzgerald, who got her start with Chick Webb’s swing orchestra at the Savoy, sings “Stompin’ at the Savoy” (a song with a meta-narrative!).

Duke Ellington and his orchestra at the Cotton Club, with Florence Hill and Bessie Dudley in the floor show.

The Cotton Club, on the other hand, was segregated; no Black patrons were allowed entry. Its decor featured motifs of the Old South (hence its name, “Cotton Club” — a self-conscious reference to white supremacy). Nevertheless, performing at the prestigious club was a much-coveted accolade for musicians like Ellington.




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