WBGO Remembers Legendary Lindy Hopper Norma Miller

May 6, 2019

Norma Miller was the last survivor of the Lindy Hop dancers at the Savoy Ballroom
Credit NPR for WBGO

Choreographer, actress, author, comedian and Lindy Hop legend Norma Miller, known as the “Queen of Swing,” died at her home in Fort Meyers, Florida at the age of 99.

Longtime manager and caretaker John Biffar made the announcement earlier this week saying Miller was surrounded by loved ones and friends. “Norma overcame every obstacle with love. After twenty-five years in her company, at 99, she was still the coolest friend I ever had.”

Miller was born in Harlem, New York. Working by age 15 as a professional dancer. Norma was the last survivor of the original Whitey Lindy Hoppers from the Savoy Ballroom. Miller’s career spanned over seven decades.

Norma Miller came to WBGO several times for interviews and events. In August of 2010, she sat down with WBGO morning host Gary Walker for a lively chat about her amazing career and John Biffar's film "Queen of Swing".

Gary asked Norma about about innovative dancer Twistmouth George and how they met.

"Twistmouth George was the world's greatest dancer at the time.  He was the one that actually created the dance that we're doing today.   He was amongst those dancers, Shorty Snowden, Twistmouth George, these were the beginners of the dancers that were at the Savoy Ballroom.  I was 12 years old when I met Twistmouth George.  I was in the street, it was Easter Sunday.  I left church and I went up to the ballroom because it was the Easter Parade.  Easter Parade for black people, it meant, sweetie, theyy're coming out in all the best togs.  So the best place to be was standing in front of the Savoy.  When they came into the Savoy they were dressed to the nine.  And that's what I was doing there. It was a matinee.  That meant the band was playing and you could hear the band out in the street cause there was no air conditioning, it was wide open windows.  So like all kids I was dancing in the street, listening to the music and Twistmouth George saw me."

Norma Miller was 14 when she won a Lindy Hop contest at the Apollo Theater
Credit NPR for WBGO

Norma says she could dance with Lindy Hoppers after watching them through the windows.

"Isn't that wonderful.  I was the greatest dance in the world.  I was precocius.  I could dance with anybody.  When I went up on the ballroom floor, I don't remember my feet ever touching the floor."

Two years later the teenager then won a big event in Harlem.

"The first thing that happened, the Apollo was giving it's first Lindy Hop contest, this was when Lindy Hopping was spreading, and I won the first Lindy Hop contest at the Apollo Theater.  That led to a weeks work at the Apollo.  So there I was at 14, I'm going at PS 89, incidently Hazel Scott and I were classmates together at PS 89 and I'm playing hookey.  I did 28 shows that week.  I got 25 dollars. I was happy to get it."

Norma expanded her knowledge of dance by attending “New Dance Group” and Bernice Johnson’s School of Dance to name a few. She was a producer, formed and directed two dance groups – the Norma Miller Dancers and Norma Miller and Her Jazzmen that included Frankie Manning’s son Chazz Young, her longtime dance partner Billy Ricker, Stoney Marteeni and Billy Dotson.

Choreographer, dancer, producer, educator Mickey Davidson said, “Norma was an elder with exceptional knowledge and life experiences. She generously shared her-self as she continued to create and perpetuated her life in entertainment. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from Norma. She did things her way. She is my role model for survival, strength and the excellence of a Black woman who was born in one generation and survived many others.”

Norma’s comedic career included a duo with Cab Calloway, entertaining troops in Vietnam along with other TV appearances with Redd Fox, Richard Prior, Moms Mabley and many others As an actress, her credits include four (4) Broadway Shows, five (5) TV shows, seven (7) films and ten (10) documentaries. She has written songs, author of four (4) books one of which was co-authored with longtime friend Redd Fox. “I feel Norma gave the world more of herself than anyone I knew,” said actor and longtime friend, Bill Cobbs.

Lindy Hop legend Norma Miller with WBGO legend Dorthaan Kirk
Credit Dorthaan Kirk

Norma Miller was also good friends with WBGO's Dorthaan Kirk and the two shared many pleasantries over the years, especially when "Queen of Swing" was screened as part of the Women in Media-Newark Film Festival.

Norma Miller will be buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, NY, on May 24th with a viewing at Benta’s Funeral Home 10:30am -1:00pm.

Click above to hear Gary Walker's 2010 interview with Norma Miller.