"Big Apple Dance" articles in The State (Columbia, SC)
The activities of the mid-late 1930s did not coin "the Big Apple" as New York's nickname, but they helped to popularize the term "Big Apple."
In 1934, the Big Apple club opened in New York City at the the northwest corner of West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue. The club was run by sportsmen who surely read the Morning Telegraph. I read 1935 accounts of the club in The Amsterdam News that stated that it was run by "sportsmen" and was highly visited by people listening on radio to blow-by-blow descriptions of Joe Louis's fights. I spoke with a Harlem resident who said that the Big Apple was a numbers joint.
"Apple" and "Big Apple" quickly entered the famous slang lexicon of Harlem in the 1930s. Cab Calloway's Hi De Ho (1938), pg. 16: "Apple: the big town, the main stem, Harlem.
In 1936, a place called the Big Apple also opened in Columbia, South Carolina. In early 1937, white students from the University of South Carolina observed the blacks at this club performing a new dance. It would be called "the Big Apple," and it started a national dance craze in the fall of 1937. The following articles are a small, representative sample.
7 July 1934, New York Amsterdam News, pg. 9, col. 1:
"This Hectic Harlem" by Roi Ottley
The Big Apple has arrived and is worth your time.
Old Fulton NY Post Cards
29 October 1934, Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, "Reverting to Type" by Art Arthur, pg. 9, col. 6:
Up on Lenox Ave. there's a restaurant called "The Big Apple," the explanation being that "the big apple" is Harlem slang for "the main stem," which is Broadway slang for the main dino.
26 July 1937, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. 5:
Columbia, S. C., July 25. - (AP) - Now it's the "big apple" on Dixie dance floors.
From the mountains to the seacoast nimble footed southerners are "appling." The dance is a combination of the old fashioned square dance and the modern "swing."
From four to twenty persons gather in a circle on the floor as the music begins in medium tempo. Then they go through a series of fancy wiggles and rhythm steps to the call of the leader. Individuals and couple step to the circle's center and "shine."
The steps are a hodge-podge of the almost forgotten Charleston, drags, swing steps and Harlem's "truckin" toned down now and then with the formal dignity of the Virginia reel.
University of South Carolina students got the idea for the dance from the gallery of a colored night club here when they watched the dusky dancers circle in finger snapping abandon to the rhythm of a phonograph. They copied the dance, called it the "big apple" after the name of the night club.
18 August 1937, New York Times, pg. 18:
New York has yet to assemble a big apple but it is believed to be on its way. The big apple is a form of dance entertainment which has been sweeping the South and East in a rhythmic plague and experts declare it is bound to turn up here.
This dance arrangement, which requires a group of ten or twleve, is not exactly new and seems to combine the worst features of the Charleston, the black bottom, truckin', the Suzi-Q, the shag, the Virginia reel, the Paul Jones, and the schottische. It sprang into popularity about four months ago when a crowd of university boys and girls in CHarleston, S. C., dropped into a night club called The Big Apple and observed the gyrations in full blast. They dragged the dance right home and fave ita college education. Since then it has been rippling its way across State after State, animated by the bluest of swing music.
The chief attraction of the dance is that individual couples can take the floor and show off their fancy steps, retreating into the circle of spectator-participants as others replace them. In other words, everybody can cut a slice of the big apple.
19 November 1937, New York Times, pg. 27:
...the Original Big Apple Dancers, featuring Billy Spivey;
4-10 July 1984, The Coastal Times, pg. 15:
The "Big Apple" Fell From the Palmetto State
by Nick Monday
Built in 1907, the Big Apple night club was originally known as the House of Peace and served as a center for Orthodox Jews.
The building itself is a stunning example of Eastern Orthodox Jewish architecture.
In 1935 the congregation moved to a new brick facility on Marion Street.
The House of Peace was sold to H. S. Des Portes for $900.00. He in turn rented it to a man named Fred "Fat" Sams. It was "Fat" Sams and Big Apple piano player "Big Elliot Wright who turned the old synagogue into a monument to the genius of black dance.
Of the two, Elliot Wright is generally given credit for the creation of the Big Apple by Columbians familiar with the club and owners. (...)
In a 1937 news article "Fat" Sams described how the club got its name. "There was a drinking party," he said. "A crowd of us was there and we had some apple brandy. We had a whole gallon, I guess. After a while somebody spilled an apple out of the jar of brandy. And somebody else yelled, grab the big apple.
"That's a good name for your place one of those in the crowd said to me right there."
...White students from the University of South Carolina, drawn to the Big Apple by the soulful strands of music permeating the night air, flocked to the club also.
"USC was a small college in 1937 and word about the Big Apple club soon spread among the students" wrote Wendy Oglesby in an essay entitled "Big Bands and Applemania."
"After that, the Big and Little Apple dances were standard fare at USC parties," Wrote Oglesby. "The little apple featured several couples dancing together in a circle, while the big apple was for a couple. They were derived directly from what the students had seen at the Big Apple club." (...)
"We just sort of got it up among ourselves," said "Fat" Sams, describing the origin of the dance in the 1937 news account. "It started with a straight two step. Then we added the swing and the sugarfoot. We didn't have a name for it until the white folks picked it up and called it the Big Apple...."
These two 1937 "Big Apple" songs became popularly associated with the dance. From ascap.com:
1. BIG APPLE (Title Code: 320044831)
EMMERICH ROBERT D
DORSEY T ORCH
% THE SONGWRITERS GUILD
1500 HARBOR BLVD
WEEHAWKEN , NJ, 07087
Tel. (201) 867-7603
DE SYLVA BROWN HENDERSON
% CHAPPELL & CO INC
% WARNER CHAPPELL MUSIC INC
10585 SANTA MONICA BLVD
LOS ANGELES , CA, 90025
Tel. (310) 441-8600
2. BIG APPLE (Title Code: 320044840)
EMI MILLS MUSIC INC/OLD ACCT
C/O EMI MUSIC PUBL
ATT: JENNIFER INSOGNA
810 SEVENTH AVENUE
NEW YORK , NY, 10019
Tel. (212) 830-2036
New York City • The Big Apple • 1930s: Jazzing the Big Apple • (1) Comments • Monday, August 02, 2004 • Permalink
Nice site. I thought you might enjoy this magazine article from 1937 about the ladies ‘dressing rooms’ at the Twenty-One Club, Rainbow Room and El Morocco: