Frankie 100: Frankie Manning Centennial Post Office Installation
In spring 2014, Mandi Gould, a longtime friend, and one of several key figures in the now legendary late 1990s “second wave” Lindy Hop revival in Toronto, put out a request online for assistance with Frankie 100: Frankie Manning Centennial Celebration, a massive event endeavour she was project managing for the Frankie Manning Foundation, whose mission is to carry on the work and the spirit of Frankie Manning in spreading the joy of Lindy Hop, danced to big band swing music, throughout the world.
Mandi Gould and her collaborators Elliott Donnelly, Sing Lim, and Tim Collins, had a long list of deliverables to accomplish for this 5-day event extravaganza, which would take place in Manhattan at over a dozen venues, including Terminal 5 NYC, the venerable Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theater, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, and Providence NYC. All locations were found by the comprehensively astute Jennifer Hempel, a longtime mainstay within the marketing team at Carnegie Hall. She also found a venue for me to stay in New York, so I would be able to complete the project on location. Her place. So thanks again, Jennifer. I’m grateful.
One of the many dreams the team was envisioning as part of this event was to have a makeshift, functioning “post office” in place at Terminal 5, the main dance venue, to reference the time when Frankie Manning left military service after World War II. When the cultural zeitgeist moved away from big band swing music and lindy hop dancing, and into jump blues, bebop jazz, then rock and roll, Manning, already a veteran dancer and a pioneer of the lindy hop aerial, took a job for three decades at the US Post Office at 8th and 34th Street. He worked there until he took retirement in the 1980s, which also coincided with the first Lindy Hop revival, also in the 1980s.
I was asked to create this installation. Because of the compressed timeline—the challenge being that we essentially had two weeks to find a cost-effective solution from start to finish—I would not have been able to do this alone. In addition, the logistics required specific expertise. The solution was to collaborate with my brilliant, able-bodied friend Michelle Smith of The Visual Department, a Toronto-based creative services firm. For seven years, she was the mastermind behind all of the great windows at William Ashley China. I had worked under her direct supervision there in the past, so I am acutely aware that her acumen is peerless. Simply stated, Michelle makes creative things happen, and happen they did.
We coordinated with venue manager and interior design whiz Jen Pringle, who knew just the right spot to place the installation.
Many dancers know Frankie Manning’s life trajectory. Positioning the post office at the back of the venue of Terminal 5, on the second floor, was an “aha” moment for many, as guests who arose the stairs to the second of three levels, would see the post office revealed to them as they ascended. The sensational staff at Terminal 5—lighting director Luciano Savedra to name but one of many—were very helpful in making the overall vision of the entire event happen, and I’m very grateful to them for their able assistance with our part of the project.
Included as part of the experience were some tongue-in-cheek, era-specific “wanted” posters placed on a bulletin board situated nearby—such posters were often found in US post offices at the time—in this instance created with the mugs of well-known dancers in the lindy hop movement. As well, stellar postcards, available to patrons at our post office, were designed by the talented Reesa Del Duca of Ballyhoo Design.
The reaction to the post office was very positive and all-in-all, the installation and event proved to be a great success. In an hilarious turn of events, the writing station got buried almost instantly on opening night, as the onslaught of dancers from all over the world—en masse—dropped their backpacks on every available table they could find, to get out onto the massive dance floor and dance to some of the best big band orchestras and swing jazz singers in the world. No problem. We temporarily set up another portable table next to the post office installation, so patrons could write postcards to their loved ones, hopefully telling them how much fun they were having, meeting like-minded people from all over, who love the music and dance as well.
It was a collaborative project in every sense, and I was grateful that Michelle and I were able to contribute what we did to the occasion, and I thank Mandi Gould and the entire team for the opportunity she awarded us.
~ Mandi Gould, Overall Event Organizer, Frankie 100
Personally speaking, it was a huge thrill as a musician and student of music, for me to be able to enjoy live big band orchestras and talented singers performing each night in such esteemed venues as Terminal 5 NYC. Dancing amidst over 2,000 lindy hoppers from around the world was another thrill. You can watch and listen to literally hours and hours of exhilarating swing jazz music and lindy hop dancing from the Frankie 100 celebration, by visiting Mandi Gould’s website.
Several days later on May 26, 2014, after the installation was set up, in place, and in operation, I made a pilgrimage to Savoy Park in Harlem, where the legendary Savoy Ballroom originally stood, on what would have been Frankie Manning‘s 100th birthday. (He died in 2009, just shy of his 95th birthday.) I was there sitting on a park bench in 2014, almost 15 years after I had visited Manhattan for Frankie Manning’s 85th birthday celebration, at the now defunct Roseland Ballroom.
Sitting on that bench, I reminisced as well on having the good fortune to enjoy a Frankie Manning lindy hop workshop weekend in Toronto, near the turn of this century. I was privileged to catch a couple of glimpses of his unique energy and generosity during his lifetime. The time I spent on that sunny afternoon in Savoy Park fifteen years later was a meditative, contemplative moment for me. I was grateful to be there, and I am forever grateful to the ambassador of swing, Frankie Manning, for sharing so much of his life with so many; sharing his love for the great dance that is the lindy hop. He was a gift to all dancers, past, present, and future. His legacy is secure, and it continues to grow every day.
Banner card design used in video clip: Reesa Del Duca of Ballyhoo Design
Video clip capture and editing: Michael Thorner
Photos: Michael Thorner, unless otherwise noted.
Addendum: Here are a couple more beautiful shots below of the post office and post office staff, by talented photographer Ben Hejkal, who shot these and many more during the event.