Woodlawn: Frankie’s Grave Walking Tour

Woodlawn Cemetery
During Frankie 100, on May 22, 23, 24 and 25 at 11 AM, many of us will meet at the famous Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx to visit Frankie Manning’s grave, with its beautiful headstone. We will also have a self-guided walking tour to visit the graves of other notables who played a role in Frankie’s life.

From Columbus Circle, West Side of Manhattan:

  • Take the D Train uptown, toward the Bronx.
  • At 161 St Street/ Yankee Stadium station get off and follow signs to the #4 train.
  • Take the #4 Train to the last stop, WOODLAWN, Jerome Avenue.
  • Walk ½ block to the cemetery entrance on Jerome Avenue and Bainbridge Ave. We will meet right inside this entrance at 11 AM.
From Other Locations in New York City:
  • There are many opportunities to switch to the #4 Train, which is an express train that runs along Lexington Ave. Just be sure to take it “uptown” when you are heading for Woodlawn .


Frankie Manning and other notables at Woodlawn Cemetery

Frankie's Headstone
Photo Lynn Redmile

While Frankie Manning didn’t know Vernon and Irene Castle personally, he certainly benefitted from the acceptance and popularity they gave to partner social dancing in the early twentieth century. The band leader James Reese Europe was an instrumental part of the Castle’s success. As the leader of the 369th Infantry Regimental Band in the WW1– Harlem Hellfighters– he was also an inspiration to Herbert “Whitey” White who served under him. Whitey later gave a professional start to Frankie and other Savoy dancers in the troupe Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

The great Joe “King” Oliver and W.C Handy gave the world the music that originated in the African-American community, jazz and blues. Their music dominated the Harlem environment that nurtured Frankie. The show business stars Bert Williams, Florence Mills and later the film star Nina Mae McKinney were the first African-American performers to gain major artistic recognition among black and white audiences alike. Frankie remembered seeing dancer and comedian Bert Williams perform at the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem, where he was fortunate to spend afterschool hours because his baby sitter worked there.

When Frankie went on to have a professional career as a dancer and choreographer with Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, and later with his own group, the Congaroo Dancers, he worked with all of the great swing bands, including Duke Ellington, who played for his first professional appearance, at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. He worked with the great swing bands of Illinois Jacquet and Lionel Hampton. He danced to the alto saxophone of Coleman Hawkins when he played with Fletcher Henderson and other great bands. He worked in variety shows with the comedian Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham and he had tremendous admiration for the flash tap dancer Harold Nicholas. Frankie worked with Harold and his brother Fayard Nicholas in the Cotton Club and other venues.

Finally, while Frankie did not know Antoinette Perry, he was the winner of the prestigious award that bears her name, the Tony Award, for his choreography of the Broadway show Black and Blue in 1989. The show, by the way, featured music by Duke Ellington and W.C.Handy, among others.

Grave of Vernon and Irene Castle
Grave of Vernon and Irene Castle


(These are listed more or chronologically in order of their influence or connection to Frankie’s life. There are direct links to Wikipedia articles.)

Bert Williams (1874 –1922) A song-and-dance man and a comedian noted for the wit of his physical body language, Williams was a key figure in the development of African-American entertainment. He became the first black American to take a lead role on the Broadway stage, and did much to push back racial barriers during his career.

Joe “King” Oliver (1885-1938) 
The leader of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band served as a mentor to Louis Armstrong and is credited with giving the young musician his first coronet. A New Orleans native, Oliver recorded duets with pianist Jelly Roll Morton and is considered one of early pioneers of jazz music.

William Christopher “W.C.” Handy, (1873-1958) The “Father of the Blues” was born in Florence, Alabama, and rose to fame when his songs were published and played across America. His signature song, “St. Louis Blues,” is inscribed on his grave. He is also known for writing “Beale Street Blues” and “Memphis Blues.”

Irene (1893-1969) and Vernon (1887-1918) Castle 
During the Jazz Age, the Castles traveled the world demonstrating a new way to dance. The Fox Trot, Castle Walk and other syncopated dances became all the rage as they set the style for a new century. Orchestra leader James Reese Europe often provided the music for the famous dance team as they swirled to the tunes of W.C. Handy and other great composers.

Florence Mills (1895-1927)
The “Blackbird of Harlem” was considered the first black female star to win international acclaim. She was a dancer, singer and a major performer at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Duke Ellington wrote his classic “Black Beauty” as a tribute to her.

Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham, (1904-1981) The widely popular comedian performed frequently at the Apollo theatre, in vaudeville and, eventually, on television, starting on the Ed Sullivan show in the 1950s. His most famous routine was “Here comes the judge”, but dancers recognize him for popularizing the dance step, Truckin’.

Duke Ellington, (1899-1974)Often considered “America’s greatest composer,” Ellington received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969. His career spanned more than fifty years, and included illustrious compositions such as “Satin Doll,” “Mood Indigo,” and “Solitude.”

Lionel Hampton, (1908-2002) 
The “King of the Vibes” was a composer, bandleader and great philanthropist. His recording “Flying Home” is considered one of the most influential recordings in American musical history.

William Christopher “W.C.” Handy, (1873-1958) The “Father of the Blues” was born in Florence, Alabama, and rose to fame when his songs were published and played across America. His signature song, “St. Louis Blues,” is inscribed on his grave. He is also known for writing “Beale Street Blues” and “Memphis Blues.”

Coleman Hawkins, (1904-1969) Credited as the jazz pioneer that turned a comic tenor saxophone into a romantic horn, Hawkins played with the Fletcher Henderson orchestra when he first came to New York. The Missouri native is best remembered for his classic 1939 recording “Body and Soul.”

Jean Baptiste “Illinois” Jacquet, (1923-2004)
 Jacquet created an entirely new style and sound for the tenor saxophone in the early 1940’s, elevating the instrument to a colorful and pre-eminent role in the world of jazz music. In 1942, at the age of nineteen, Jacquet was catapulted to immediate international fame with his classic solo on the very first recording of his career, “Flying Home.”

Antoinette Perry (1888-1946) The actress and director was co-founder of the American Theatre Wing. The Tony Awards, given annually to the best Broadway shows, are named after her.

Frankie Memorial
Photo Lynn Redmile


Frankie Manning’s gravestone at Woodlawn Cemetery was created by master artisan Leon Rader. Thank you to the major donors for making this memorial a reality: Chazz Young, Austin Dance Academy; Michellene Young; Judy Pritchett; Erin Stevens, Pasadena Ballroom Dance Assoc.; Buddy Steves, Swing Bud Films, LLC; Houston Swing Dance Society; Sandra Cameron Dance Center; 
Elliott Donnelley, Dancers’ Group, Inc., San Francisco; Thursday Night Hoppers, New York City; Santa Barbara Swing Dancers; Herrang Dance Camp, Sweden, Harlem Hotshots, Sweden; Sing and Fen, Jitterbugs Swingapore; Hop to the Beat and the Boston Swing Community; Swedish Swing Society and the Snowball – Hasse, Marie,Helena & Kenneth, Northern California Lindy Society and to many others.

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