The intriguing origins of Lindy Hop:
an incredible but true tale
On May 20th and 21st, we remember two momentous events from 1927: Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic and the inception of the Lindy Hop dance. This story is so captivating, we’ve even curated a Spotify playlist that mirrors the duration of Lindbergh’s flight.
Setting the Scene
In the late 1920s, during Prohibition, America was on the cusp of becoming a global powerhouse. Europe, recovering from World War I, watched as industrial design flourished in Germany and swing music grew in popularity in the U.S. But this was also a time when organized crime was prevalent.
Enter the Characters
- Charles Lindbergh: A mail pilot who dared to fly solo from New York to Paris, a feat many attempted but few achieved. This journey lasted 33 grueling hours. Lindbergh’s plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, represented a leap or ‘hop,’ giving rise to the term “Lindy Hop.”
- Owney Madden: An English gangster who seized control of a nightclub from Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion, in 1923. Renaming it the Cotton Club, Madden introduced swing music by legends like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong to white audiences.
- Shorty George Snowden: A talented dancer of small stature, his leaps and twirls became the signature moves of the Lindy Hop. In racially segregated New York, Snowden’s dance would cross barriers, eventually being performed at the Savoy, the first integrated dance hall.
The 20th and 21st of May mark the anniversary of the solo flight of a mailman, Charles Lindbergh (which took place in 1927), and the invention of Lindy Hop. Here is their remarkable story, one we’ve decided to commemorate with a special Spotify playlist of the same duration as that feat. The story of Lindy Hop.
We’re about to narrate a legend that glides over an ocean, amidst bullets and swing, a tale untold until now, where eventually everyone dances.
These incredible events unfold during the height of Prohibition, in the late ’20s, an era of great exploits that will etch themselves onto the bark of the tree of legends.
The tale of a lone eagle and Shorty George, the legends of swing, and the Cotton Club: the origins of Lindy Hop.
There’s a mail pilot who decided to attempt the feat no pilot had yet achieved: to take off from New York and land in Paris, crossing the Atlantic Ocean alone.
Many had tried in pairs, and only one had succeeded, but in the opposite direction. All others had failed, disappearing forever into the icy waters, never to be found again.
It’s an America still distant from becoming the global power we know today, unaware that its darkest Tuesday in history awaits in two years, when the New York Stock Exchange will collapse in 1929.
Meanwhile, Europe still struggles to recover from the First World War, and in Germany, the seed of Nazism has already been planted. And as industrial design takes root in Germany, swing is being born in the United States.i
Suspended between life and the Atlantic Ocean
But Prohibition also means organized crime, with Italian and Irish mafia playing a significant role. However, this time, it will be an English gangster: Owney Madden, intertwining his story with our flight into the past. Maddy, known as the killer, forcibly takes over a nightclub from the boxer Jack Johnson in 1923, the first African-American heavyweight champion, and that club has been struggling for a couple of years.
The Cotton Club
Maddy changes its name from Club Deluxe to Cotton Club. As for Johnson, he will be convicted for other matters, specifically the offense of “improper” romantic relationships, meaning with white women.
At the Cotton Club, only black music is played for a white audience. That music is swing, and it’s performed by emerging black artists like a certain Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Jimmie Lunceford, and Louis Armstrong.
The swing era has just begun, and at the Cotton Club, the Lindy Hop dance will become famous.
Lindy Hop is also the aviator hat specifically inspired by this feat and dedicated to Charles Lindbergh. Do you prefer it in 100% cotton or in a linen blend?
Somewhere else on the same ocean over which a small airplane is flying, a transatlantic liner cuts through the waves, swayed by the rhythm of swing.
A little man, whom everyone calls Shorty, is the absolute protagonist of the scene. It’s with him that the story of Lindy Hop truly begins! With his leaps, it seems like he could jump across that ocean in a single bound.
He’s Snowden, George Shorty Snowden, and his profession remains unknown. What job do you expect a small black man to have, tucked away in the underbelly of the racist New York of those years?
But what he certainly can do brilliantly is dance. Shorty is unstoppable, compensating for his short stature with leaps and twirls that leave women much taller than him dizzy.
Hop, George, hop!
Dance, George, to celebrate that feat that’s bringing Charlie Lindy to the other side. Hop, George, because with one of your leaps, maybe you’ll even get there before him!
Dance, George, because while Paris awaits that little airplane, the Cotton Club is waiting to dance the Lindy Hop you’ve just invented.
It doesn’t matter that only white people are allowed to do it in there, because later on, they’ll also dance the Lindy Hop at the Savoy: the first place in the world to break down the barriers of apartheid between whites and blacks.
And let the airplane continue on its impossible feat.
The Spirit of St. Louis
That little airplane is the Spirit of St. Louis, and at the controls is Charles Lindbergh, nicknamed Lindy, both committed to accomplishing that transoceanic leap, or ‘hop’ in American slang, that no one has ever achieved.
You’re riding the line between two days and one night for the journey from NY to Paris. It takes 33 hours and some minutes to get there, if you make it.
Departure set for May 20th, despite the rain making that immense feat even more challenging. Lindy hadn’t slept all night. Noises from neighboring rooms and then the storm that had been pounding the city for days on end kept him awake and tormented. It wasn’t even clear if the poor Spirit of St. Louis would be able to take off from the mud of the dirt runway. But the feat couldn’t wait because the skies of those times were teeming with adventurers vying for the same laurel Lindy wanted to claim first. And from one day to the next, someone could have snatched it from him.
Lindy Hop is the aviator pants, perfect for the Lindy Hop dance, made from cotton gabardine by Spirit of St. Louis.
They chose to name that little airplane that way because St. Louis was the most generous city in raising the funds needed to build it. A crowdfunding before its time.
The Lindy hop from NY to Paris
A wooden frame covered in fabric, without a radio for communication, and with navigation equipment stripped to the bare essentials to make room for a larger fuel tank, the only real hope to make it.
Now it’s up there, while George dances his dance, not George’s dance but Charles’s, Lindy Hop is Lindbergh’s leap, and George dances it for him, on that ship.
In the company of snow, cold, rain, and that cursed sleep that torments him, Lindy will have to endure for 33 hours, 30 minutes, and 29.8 seconds exactly, before touching the ground and winning the most challenging challenge of the era.
Celebrate with music, Spirit of St. Louis will play for you.
To mark the 92nd anniversary of Lindbergh’s flight and the birth of Lindy Hop, we’ve compiled a 33.5-hour playlist filled with the best of swing, some Rock ‘n’ Roll, and a few delightful surprises.
Celebrate the origins of Lindy Hop with Us!
Dive into the rhythm of swing with this free public playlist. Imagine dancing like Shorty George for the same time it took Lindbergh to fly from NY to Paris. Dancing through all 635 tracks would be a remarkable achievement in its own right, though, thankfully, without the associated risks.
If you’re curious or eager to dive into the rhythm of swing, the playlist is public and free. Join us in the celebration!
Play the special playlist by Spirit of St. Louis now!
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