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Frankie Manning: Never Stop Swinging
Posted: May 21st, 2009

Watch the entire documentary of Frankie Manning: Never Stop Swinging here on the SundayArts Web site, also to air on May 24th for SundayArts on THIRTEEN.

The documentary features the last major interview of Frankie Manning before his death, as well as precious archival footage of his dancing from the 1930’s to 2009 in New York, Hollywood, Sweden, France, Italy and Singapore. Footage highlights include scenes of Manning’s birthday parties, where he danced with one woman for each year he’d been alive, the legendary dance scene choreographed and headlined by Manning for the film “Hellzapoppin,” and the phenomenal duet with his 76-year-old son, Chazz, himself a professional dancer. Frankie was a born storyteller, with a huge smile and an even bigger laugh.

“Frankie Manning was a man who truly LIVED every moment of his life,” said Julie Cohen, director of the documentary. “Having spent the past two months watching hundreds of hours of footage of him dancing from the 1930’s to the present, I’ve seen the joy he took in every step.”

As a teenager, Manning started dancing in the best venues in Harlem, including the legendary Savoy Ballroom. He became a member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, the energetic, immensely talented group that made the dance a national phenomenon. As a young man, Manning traveled the world, and entertained on stages with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. The group developed a large international following, even as they fought the racial prejudice that often barred them from sleeping at the hotels where they performed, or eating in the restaurants where their cabaret act brought in big profits.

Frankie’s performances were captured on film in a number of Hollywood movies. His dance sequence in “Hellzapoppin” is still considered the great swing dance number of all time. And it’s not just the oldtimers who enjoy it; the clip has more than million hits on YouTube. Frankie wasn’t just a dancer; he was a choreographer too, although no one called him that at the time. He devised many of the acrobatic “air steps” that made his Lindy Hopping troupe such a huge attraction.

Frankie stopped dancing for a few years to serve in the Pacific in World War II, then picked it up again after he returned home from the war. When the swing dancing craze died down in the 50’s, Frankie got a day job: he worked in the post office for thirty years. Then in the late 80’s when swing came back into fashion, so did Frankie. He was one of the choreographers of the Broadway smash Black and Blue, for which he won a Tony Award. He also did choreography for Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.

Frankie Manning: Never Stop Swinging, is a half hour documentary produced and directed by Julie Cohen, the producer of the hugely popular shows The Jews of New York and New York Goes to War. The program will also feature an interview with Ruthie Rheingold, a 92 year old Jewish woman, who along with her partner Harry Rosenberg made up the only white couple to dance in Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, and a reunion between Frankie and Ruthie, caught on film.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.