The Savoy Ballroom: Who what and where

JOHN TENAGLIA

The Savoy Ballroom opened its doors on December 14th, 1926 and closed in 1958. Owned by “Gangster” Moe Paddon who some say was just a front for Chicago’s Al Capone. The Savoy was a two story ballroom which spanned the whole block of 140th. street to 141st. street on Lenox Avenue in (Uptown) Harlem, New York.  The Ballroom itself was huge, and something that we could only dream about. It had two bandstands, coloured spotlights, and a dance floor that was rectangular in shape (nicknamed the track) and was over 10,000 square ft. of spring loaded, wooden dance floor. The place was a hit. The floor had to be replaced every three years due to it’s tremendous use.The Savoy could and very often would hold up to 4,000 people with about 15% of the people being white. Depending on who the band was, the ballroom would more than double its capacity. When a fella by the name of Benny Goodman brought his big band to play at the Savoy it was reported that there was approximately 25,000 people waiting to get into the ballroom. The Orchestra’s were paid $1,200 a week to play the Savoy.

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The club was only open to the public five nights a week, with two days reserved for private Parties/Functions. The normal Cover Charge was between $0.30 cents to $0.85 cents in the early 1930′s. During the depression the cover was lower and the Savoy would setup free Holiday dinners for the homeless or poor folks in the area for free.The Savoy was allowing inter-racial dancing of Blacks and Whites, which was really frowned upon by both races at the time at other night spots, but not at the Savoy. The Savoy hardly had any problems with fights or trouble makers due to racial issues. People learnt to overlook there differences and respect the true meaning of the Savoy, it’s music and dance.With Lindy Hop being said to originate at the Savoy, the ballroom was known as the “Home Of Happy Feet” and had the best Lindy Hop dancers in the Nation. The best of these dancers would hang out together in the North/East corner of the Savoy, known as “Cats Corner.” The leader of the pride was Hubert “Whitey” White and the group was commonly known as “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.” Whitey’s right hand man was none other than Frankie Manning who later took over as their leader.Unfortunately today there is no trace of the ballroom ever being in that location. All that is left are the legendary stories and the diminishing number of people who were able to enjoy the Savoy at it’s time. Acknowledgment of existence is on its way. A monument and plaque will soon be laid to remind the world just where the home of swing once was and spiritually still is.

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