She was known as the Queen of Swing, a dancer who helped make famous the lindy hop, a fast-paced, acrobatic dance popular during the Big Band era of the 1930s and 1940s.
On Sunday, the queen, Norma Miller, died of congestive heart failure at her home in Florida. She was 99 years old.
Miller, who grew up in Harlem, dancing on the streets of the fabled neighborhood, was the last surviving member of the original Lindy Hoppers, according to the New York Times. The Lindy Hoppers was the all-black troupe that made the dance famous through its members’ appearances in movies and on tours throughout Europe and Latin America.
Miller was an energetic and vibrant nonagenarian, continuing to perform with a swing band until shortly before her death, the Washington Post reports.
“She had just cut four new tracks,” John Biffar, a friend and director of Queen of Swing, a 2006 documentary about her life, told the Post. “They were playing her music for her when she passed.”
Lindy hopping wasn’t for the faint of heart. As choreographer and dancer Debbie Allen, who’s planning a film based on Miller’s life, explained to the Post:
“Think of Fast and Furious on the dance floor, with women going over men’s backs, down through their legs and up over their body,” she said. “This is something you’d expect to see in Cirque du Soleil, but it started with her, Frankie Manning and all the other great dancers back in the day.”
Miller was also a fighter for civil rights, using her dance companies, Norma Miller Dancers and Norma Miller and Her Jazzmen, as the vehicles.
As the Times explained:
With her own black companies, Norma Miller Dancers and Norma Miller and Her Jazzmen, she joined early fights to undermine segregation in the nightclubs and casinos of Miami Beach and Las Vegas, where black entertainers — even stars like Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr. — drew big crowds but afterward had to leave through the kitchen and stay in segregated accommodations.
Born in Harlem on Dec 2, 1919, Miller died just months away from what would have been her centennial, being an ambassador to the end for the lindy hop, and in many ways, for African Americans of the Greatest Generation, who opened so many doors for so many more of us who’ve come behind them.
Rest in power, Ms. Norma Miller.