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People, Locations, Episodes

Fri, 05.24.1935

The ‘Jitterbug’ (Dance) Goes Public

Calloway doing the Jitterbug

*On this date in 1935, the Jitterbug (dance) was introduced to the world.  Cab Calloway introduced it in his film Jitterbug Party.  

In the film, he performed two songs at the Cotton Club, then took some friends to Harlem for a “Jitterbug Party.”  The jitterbug is a dance popularized in the United States in the early 20th century and is associated with various types of swing dances such as the Lindy Hop, jive, and East Coast Swing.  Calloway's 1934 recording of "Call of the Jitter Bug" (Jitterbug) and the film "Cab Calloway's Jitterbug Party" popularized use of the word "jitterbug" and created a strong association between Calloway and jitterbug. Lyrics to "Call of the Jitter Bug" connect the word jitterbug and drinking alcohol:

If you'd like to be a jitter bug,
First thing you must do is get a jug,
Put whiskey, wine and gin within,
And shake it all up and then begin.
Grab a cup and start to toss,
You are drinking jitter sauce!
Don't you worry, you just mug,
And then you'll be a jitter bug!

In the 1947 film Hi De Ho, Calloway included the following lines in his song "Minnie the Moocher": "Woe there ain't no more Smokey Joe/ She's fluffed off his hi-de-ho/ She's a solid jitterbug/ And she starts to cut a rug/ Oh Minnie's a hep cat now."  In 1957, the Philadelphia-based television show American Bandstand was picked up by the American Broadcasting Company and shown across the United States. American Bandstand featured currently popular songs, live appearances by musicians and dancing in the studio. At this time, the most popular fast dance was jitterbug, which was described as "a frenetic leftover of the swing era ballroom days that was only slightly less acrobatic than Lindy".

Blues musician Muddy Waters did a jitterbug during his performance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, prompting cheers from the audience. His performance was recorded and released on the LP At Newport 1960.  In a 1962 article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Bassist Bill Black, who had backed Elvis Presley from 1954 to 1957, and now the leader of the Bill Black Combo listed "jitterbug" along with the twist and cha-cha as "the only dance numbers you can play".  


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