Monday, March 24, 2014
STOMPIN' AT THE SAVOY
Delaney Moran will attend Middlebury College in Vermont this fall, and is thinking about a career in service: teaching, or maybe speech pathology. We wish her well, and we are thankful that The Concord Review still provides a venue for the best high school writing in America.
"Stompin’ at The Savoy" With Concord Review Author Delaney Moran
Posted on 24 March 2014, The Report Card
Tags: curriculum reform, delaney moran, educational standards, lenox memorial high school, The Concord Review, the savoy ballroom
By Bill Korach www.thereportcard.org
Delaney Moran, a senior at Lenox Memorial High School in Lenox, Massachusetts, has written an evocative account of the legendary Savoy Ballroom in Harlem for The Concord Review. “Stompin’ at the Savoy” the hit song written by Edgar Sampson and recorded separately by Benny Goodman and Chick Webb recalls the great days of the Savoy Ballroom in the 1930’s and 40’s. Since 1987, The Concord Review has been publishing the best high school papers in America. Each quarter, Will Fitzhugh, TCR publisher and editor, selects the best papers for publication. The papers, from 6.000-20,000 words represent the gold standard in high school writing. Fitzhugh and many others in education believe that reading and writing are the best way to learn and think. Writing was once an obvious and basic educational task, but today as schools are dumbing down their students, serious writing has all but vanished from the classroom. Happily, TCR continues to find and publish excellent work.
Delaney Moran’s paper opens with this account:
“The entrance to the Savoy was at street level. You went down one flight to check your coat, then you walked back up two flights to the ballroom which was on the second floor. as I was climbing the steps that led to the ballroom, I could hear this swinging music coming down the stairwell, and it started seeping right into my body. I got to the top step, went through the double doors, and stopped for a moment with my back to the bandstand, taking it all in. When I turned around and faced the room…well, I just stood there with my mouth open. The whole floor was full of people—and they were dancing! The band was pounding. The guys up there were wailing! The music was rompin’ and stompin’. Everyone was movin’ and groovin’.”1
These were the remarks of Frankie Manning, a black dancer from Harlem, upon entering the Savoy Ballroom for the first time. This scene depicts a typical night at the Savoy Ballroom in 1930s Harlem. The Savoy was the most popular nightclub in the city and home to the best jazz and the best dancers New York had to offer.2 Remarkably, it was completely integrated from its inception in 1926, despite segregation in almost every other section of the country, including New York City.
The Report Card interviewed Delaney Moran about her 26-page paper on the Savoy. We asked why she chose the topic of the Savoy Ballroom that closed down long before she was born. Delaney said:
“Our AP history teacher said we could write on any topic, and I like dance. I tap, and jazz dance, and was curious about the Lindy Hop. I researched it for my topic and read came across articles about the Savoy Ballroom. The 1920’s and 1930’s were exciting, interesting, and glamorous in a way that you don’t see today. I enjoyed some of the writers of that era, particularly F. Scott Fitzgerald and his The Great Gatsby. Some of my friends call me an old soul, I’m not that interested in Twitter of Facebook, but I am drawn to those times.”
Some other angles that interested Delaney:
“The Savoy Ballroom was the only place in New York where blacks and whites intermingled on the dance floor. Other clubs like Small’s Paradise and the Cotton Club were owned by whites for white patrons. The entertainers and servers were black. So I wanted to research why the Savoy, conceived, owned and operated by Moe Gale, a Jewish entrepreneur, became integrated decades before anyplace else in New York and elsewhere.”
“The Savoy Ballroom changed all this. Opened in 1926 by Moe Gale, and managed by his black business partner, Charles Buchanan, the Savoy provided an integrated alternative to the Roseland Ballroom (after which it was modeled). It was consider- ably more upscale than all other venues open to blacks. In fact, the Savoy became the most popular club in all of Harlem for blacks and whites alike, and home to the best dancers and musicians of the city.23 On its opening night a crowd of 4,000 people, black and white, rushed through its doors, 24 and over the span of its operation, the Savoy served an estimated 10 million people.25—a true destination, it was also a stop on nightlife bus tours.”26
You feel the rhythm of the Savoy through Delaney’s telling of the story, and description of the big band stars of that era:
“He featured these musicians at the Savoy. Most often, Chick Webb and his orchestra played on the number one bandstand.44 There were several other house bands over the years including those led by Erskine Hawkins, Lucky Millinder, Teddy Hill, Buddy Johnson, Fess Williams, Tiny Bradshaw, and Willie Bryant, all African american.45 However, the Savoy also showcased white musicians including Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Gray and his Casa Loma orchestra.46 The most eminent musicians, including Louis armstrong, 47 Leopold Stokowski,48 Dicky Wells,49 Fletcher Henderson,50 Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, the Andrews Sisters, Jo Stafford, and Jimmy Rushing,51 could also be seen there on occasion. Nevertheless, Frankie Manning, a black swing dancer, explained that the dancers at the Savoy were not biased in their musical preferences: “If the music was good, it didn’t matter to the Savoy crowd whether the band was black or white. By the same token, if the music wasn’t good, they wouldn’t blame it on the color of the musicians.”52 This attitude was proven when guy Lombardo’s orchestra, a white orchestra, broke the attendance record the night they played at the Savoy.53 Norma Miller, another black Savoy dancer, explained that the race mixing of musicians was necessary to progress. She reflected in 1996, “jazz needed a place to develop where innovation was not only accepted but was encouraged; indeed, where those who were timid were left behind. That place was the Savoy. It was where white and black musicians mixed.”54 This mix of musicians simply could not be found anywhere else in Harlem.
While the performers contributed to the Savoy’s fame, integration distinguished it from all other venues. The norm at the time was segregation, as exemplified in its most extreme by the Cotton Club. There were no other institutions comparable to the Savoy in its racial acceptance.”
We asked Delaney why she felt that the Savoy was so successful and yet so unique in the integration of the customers. Norma Miller said of the Savoy Ballroom:
“The Savoy was THE place to be. If you wanted to hear the best music and see the best dancers, and even compete in a dance contest, then you went to the Savoy. I think that for those whites that went, the glamour and the excitement outweighed any racial bias they may have had.”
• Delaney Moran will attend Middlebury College in Vermont this fall, and is thinking about a career in service: teaching, or maybe speech pathology. We wish her well, and we are thankful that The Concord Review still provides a venue for the best high school writing in America.