Savoy Ballroom

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The Savoy Ballroom, located in Harlem, New York City, was a medium sized ballroom for music and public dancing that was in operation from March 12, 1926 to 1958. It was located between 140th and 141st Streets on Lenox Avenue.[1]

The Savoy was a popular dance venue from the late 1920s to the 1950s and many dances such as Lindy Hop became famous here. It was known downtown as the "Home of Happy Feet" but uptown, in Harlem, as "the Track". Unlike the 'whites only' policy of the Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom was integrated where white and black Americans danced together. Virtuosic dancers, however, excluded others from the northeast corner of the dance floor, now referred to as the "Cat's Corner," a term not used at the time.[2]

A "Battle of the Bands" happened when the Benny Goodman Orchestra challenged Chick Webb in 1937 and in 1938 when the Count Basie Band did the same evening it performed with Goodman at his famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert. The general assessment was that they both lost, to Chick Webb.[3]

The ballroom was on the second floor and a block long. It had a double bandstand that held one large and one medium sized band running against its east wall. Music was continuous as the alternative band was always in position and ready to pick up the beat when the previous one had completed its set. The Savoy was unique in having the constant presence of a skilled elite of the best Lindy Hoppers. Usually known as "Savoy Lindy Hoppers" occasionally they turned professional, such as Whitey's Lindy Hoppers and performed in Broadway and Hollywood productions.[4]

"Stompin' at the Savoy", a 1934 Big Band classic song and jazz standard, was named after the ballroom.

Chick Webb was the leader of the best known Savoy house band during the mid-1930s. A teenage Ella Fitzgerald, fresh from a talent show win at the Apollo Theater in 1934, became its vocalist.[5]

The Savoy participated in the 1939 World's Fair in New York, presenting "The Evolution of Negro Dance".[6] The Ballroom closed its doors in 1958,[7] and the building in which it was housed was demolished.[8]

On 26 May 2002, a commemorative plaque for the Savoy Ballroom was revealed on Lenox Ave between 140th and 141st Streets. The plaque was unveiled by Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, surviving members of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers.

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