Five years ago, I saw Frankie Manning at the Commodore Barry Club in Philadelphia. It was his 90th birthday party, and he was dancing Lindy Hop like he was 20.
The crowd sang happy birthday as Manning listened with a smile. It was the usual “Happy birthday, dear Frankie” drone, no swing at all to it.
“That sounded like a funeral,” Manning told the partiers, everyone from University of Pennsylvania jitterbuggers to a few veterans of the Big Band era. “You can do better than that.”
Then he led us through the same words, same notes, with a syncopated hand clap.
“Happy birthday … to you …
“Happy birthday … to you …”
Suddenly we had a new beat. Everyone was bouncing. Everyone was smiling. We all felt 20 years old, even the 20-year-olds.
Frankie Manning, one of the inventors of the great American dance, died yesterday. He was a month shy of his 95th birthday, and still dancing.