Reasons for Celebrating George ‘Shorty’ Snowden’s Birthday on July 4

Written and copyright by Harri Heinila

On that date in 2012, I wrote an article about George Snowden and Mattie Purnell, the creators of the Lindy Hop, where I stated:

“When the United States prepares to celebrate its independence day…some of its most important cultural characters in the field of dance stay mostly unknown and uncelebrated.”

I also stated that “However, George Snowden and Mattie Purnell have not been celebrated for their remarkable invention as the originators of the Lindy Hop.”

To this day, there have not been any major celebrations, with the exception of the Jiving Lindy Hoppers in 2004, when was Snowden’s centennial, where Snowden and Purnell were acknowledged as the originators. Possibly there have been minor celebrations for them, at least I wish so. I have celebrated and reminded people to celebrate them every year, but Snowden and Purnell still lack the recognition they deserve for their achievement, and in the case of Snowden, he also should be acknowledged for his other major contributions to African-American jazz dance and entertainment. Next, I will give a few insights into the contributions.

After Snowden and Purnell devised the basic principle of the Lindy Hop in Harlem’s Rockland Palace between June and July, 1928 (This is discussed in detail in my doctoral dissertation, and it is also discussed in the late Terry Monaghan’s article about Snowden, and in my article about Snowden and Purnell), Snowden was part of the Lindy Hop Revue at the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem starting from September 1928. He also performed with Bill Robinson at Harlem’s Rockland Palace in November 1928. At the same time with the performances, there were organized the Lindy Hop contests on a weekly basis in Harlem. By the very beginning of the 1930s, the Lindy Hop contests were organized also outside Harlem. Snowden and his group were the first Lindy Hoppers who performed in Broadway plays like Blackbirds in 1930 and Singing the Blues in 1931.

Savoy Lindy Hoppers took the Lindy Hop to other places in the U.S. at the latest starting from the beginning of the 1930s. The Lindy was performed in Chicago in 1931, and Snowden toured around the U.S. with Bill Robinson and Paul Whiteman. It was Snowden and his dancers who laid down the foundation for the success of the Lindy Hop and paved the way for the next generation of Savoy Lindy Hoppers who are usually known as Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

Thus, in addition to his role in creating the Lindy Hop, Snowden should be credited for being the leader and the most important dancer of the very first Savoy Lindy Hoppers who took the Lindy Hop to contests, ballrooms, night clubs, and Broadway plays. He and his group also performed in a short movie called After Seben in 1929 in which arguably the first couple of the three couples performed the swing out, which is the most essential pattern in the Lindy Hop. The short movie is probably the first movie where the basic pattern was performed. Snowden’s group also experimented with early air steps before Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers developed their spectacular air step routines. And it should not be forgotten that Snowden was the first Lindy Hopper who had a step called ‘Shorty George’ named after him.

So, are not there reasons enough for celebrating George Snowden every year?

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About authenticjazzdance

The author of the site is Harri Heinila, Doctor of Social Sciences, political history, and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Political and Economic Studies at the University of Helsinki. He is interested in Authentic Jazz Dance: all jazz dances from different eras of jazz. E.g. Cakewalk, the Charleston, Black Bottom, The Lindy Hop, Mambo, Rhythm Tap. Heinila researches jazz dance, in particular, in the context of Harlem, New York. His doctoral dissertation, An Endeavor by Harlem Dancers to Achieve Equality - The Recognition of the Harlem-Based African-American Jazz Dance Between 1921 and 1943 is a groundbreaking study in the field of jazz dance and Harlem.
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