In the beginning the Harvest Moon Ball was held usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday in August or September and was sponsored by the Daily News in New York (News Welfare Association, Inc.) This contest ran for nearly 50 years and was highly popular.
Prelims would be in many clubs and ballrooms thru-out the city… such as the Savoy Ballroom, (later the Savoy Manor) and even the Roseland Ballroom. There were six to seven contest divisions one could enter, and in the coming years would include Rumba, Conga, Lindy Hop, Jitterbug Jive, Fox Trot, Rock and Roll, Polka, Tango Waltz and even the Hustle. At the end of the contest an “All Around Champion” was awarded. Prizes included cash, medals and trophies … and in later years a spot on the famed Ed Sullivan television program.
This contest was to become very famous around the world: It’s official song and theme was “Shine On, Harvest Moon”. The music at these contests were provided by first class musicians of the times such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tito Puente, Nan Rodrigo, Machito, etc.
Here is a glimpse of the 1935 event
Harlem in 1935: Norma Miller recalls….
“Every weekend I fell into the fantasy world of the Savoy… I was blind to the frustration and anger building… But in March 1935 the rage exploded and could no longer be ignored”
By 1930 Harlem had an almost entirely black community numbering more than 200,000. This number would swell and eventually have Harlem termed as The Black Mecca.
But the spark that led to an explosion in Harlem began at 2:30 in the afternoon on March 19, 1935. The rumor was that Lino Rivera, a sixteen-year-old black Puerto Rican, had been beaten by an employee at the Kress Five and Ten store (just across the street from the Apollo Theater) after Rivera had tried to shoplift a 10-cent penknife.
According to reports the employee admitted to intending to “‘beat the hell out of’” Rivera, and Rivera acknowledged that he had bitten the hand of the employee in the struggle. This led to the police calling an ambulance. In the meantime, a crowd had begun to gather outside around a woman who had witnessed Rivera’s apprehension and was shouting that Rivera was being beaten. When the ambulance and a hearse coincidently arrived at the scene, a rumor spread like wild fire that Rivera had been murdered. The crowd became a mob increasing in size … and in utter protest and anger stores were looted and vandalized. Over 600 windows were smashed, deaths occurred and hundreds of thousands in damages. The devastation continued until the next day.
According to Norma Miller eventually a meeting was called between Mr. Charles Buchanan, Whitey and two men from the Daily News to discuss a dance contest. The Daily News wanted to boost the city’s morale as well after the riot, and felt a city-wide competition with the Savoy Ballroom in there featuring Lindy Hop would be good exposure and morale for all.
There were concerns for Whitey and Mr. Buchanan that the dance had broken away from the traditional dance aesthetics, and about judges judging a new dance that in their minds may have inappropriate standards. After that initial meeting Whitey had an intense meeting with his favorites Leon James and Frankie Manning – before Norma and the rest of the group would know the full situation.
Later she states “when we learned about the contest we were told it was our chance to put Lindy on the map, and we needed to start rehearsing yesterday. Whitey told us that we would meet at the ballroom daily and work out routines”.
The first official start date was in the Fall of 1935 at Madison Square Garden…. and we will wet your appetite with that incredible story in our third installment in February 2014. Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, Leon James and other enthusiastic and innovative Harlem youth would be on their way – BIG time!
Contributor: Barbara Jones
Frankie Manning quotes are from “Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop”, by Frankie Manning and Cynthia R. Millman. Temple University Press, 2007
Norma Millerquotes are from “Swinging at the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer”, by Norma Millerand Evette Jensen. Temple University Press, 2001
To learn about the May 2014, The 5 Day Frankie Manning CentennialFestival and World Lindy Hop Day in Harlem please go to www.frankie100.com
To take lessons for dancing Lindy Hop and Swing dance socially contact The Harlem Swing Dance Society (THSDS)at firstname.lastname@example.org or 347 – 709 – 7022