Artist and Musician Biographies


Here is a video about the Savoy Ballroom. One of the Earliest racially integrated jazz clubs.

Here is a video excerpt from Hellzapoppin.

The Savoy Ballroom was a jazz nightclub in Harlem, New York. It was located between 140th and 141st Streets, at 596 Lennox Avenue. The Savoy opened in 1926 during a time called the Harlem Renaissance, when the arts flourished among African Americans in the United States and Europe. The club was a center for Jazz music and dance, where some of the most important individuals performed what was called "Swing Dance." In those days, you couldn't take a class in Swing Dance. Night Clubbers went to the jazz clubs to learn this cutting-edge music and dance.

At a time when racial segregation was quite strict, the Savoy enforced a non-discrimination policy and it was one of the few, if not the only place where both Whites and African Americans were welcome in an unsegregated public space. It is estimated that 85% of the clientele was black and 15% White, but sometimes there would be closer to an even split, 50% Black and 50% White. One of the most famous dances that came from the Savoy was the very athletic dance called the "Lindy Hop" (also known as the Jitterbug). Frankie Manning and Norma Miller who were members of the Lindy Hoppers, a group that performed there and also starred in the motion picture Hellzapoppin. Other dances that came from the Savoy included the Flying Charleson, Jive, Snakehips, Rhumboogie, the Shimmy and others. You can learn more about those dances at Wikipedia.

The club was built with a double bandstand so the music would be continuous, with one group playing while the other prepared their next number. This way, the music was continuous which kept the mood up with non-stop dancing. Much later in the twentieth century, DJs achieved the same effect with two turn tables in disco clubs, blending one song into the next. Chick Webb was the leader of the best known Savoy house band. The club also brought in other top-shelf musicians, like Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and others, who also performed at the Apollo Theater, which itself drew large crowds.

Despite its popularity and the way it benchmarked racial diversity in the early twentieth century, The Savoy was controvercial for those very reasons among Downtown public officials. The club was shut down in 1943 on vice charges filed by the police department and the U.S. Army; but their licence was renewed later that year. Nonetheless, the Savoy Ballroom and the nearby Cotton Club (another famous jazz club) were demolished in 1953. Though Borough President Hulan Jack fought with other officials to save these clubs, they were torn down to make way for Bethune Towers/Delano Village housing complex.