What a strange but unique name - The Jitterbug! Nearly all people attribute Cab Calloway (1907-1994) as coining the term. However, he was not the one. As you will see, Harry Alexander White (b.6/1/1898) who was also known as "Father White" by his peers coined the term "Jitterbug." White was a trombonist, drummer and arranger on the "Keith Circuit" in 1914 as well as working with Duke Ellington (1899-1974) and Elmer Snowden, later White, would work with the renowned Cab Calloway.
Calloway's trumpeter, Edwin Swayzee, overheard Mr. White using the term "Jitterbug," which apparently was unheard of during this period. Swayzee wrote the song entitled "The Jitterbug" for Cab Calloway after hearing White's use of the word. Calloway recorded the song in January 1934, which made it a household name. Sooo,,,, White coined it, Swayzee used it, and Calloway made it famous.
Incidentally, the very first song written for the movie "Wizard of Oz" (1938) was the song titled "Jitterbug" as well. (July/1938 Keen Magazine.)
Jazz lingo (Jive Speak) played an important part as well (Daddy-O, Icky, Ickies, Reefer man, Jive, Hep-Cat, etc.) and was big during the Jazz era. Here are some of its stories:
1) One description is that it meant a man or women, suffering from alcoholic or drug nerves.
2) Another story has Jitterbug associated to the English word "Bugger or Bugging" (a sexual act,) and was used to characterize someone suffering from Syphilis.
3) Another is of racial nonsense (resembling the preceding) was used to characterize a man or woman, who was sexually active with a dissimilar race (Black and White,) and/or who had the "Jitters from Drugs, Alcohol or Syphilis and was "bugging" them ... "a Jitterbugger!"
4) Some of the stories were comical, such as; the dancers looked like jitterbugs ... (?) because they bounced, hopped.So, whatever the original intent of the word may have been, it is now, to be known as a dance.
There were distinct forms of Lindy and Shag already being done at such places as the Savoy Ballroom. Today, the Jitterbug as a dance, is also known as: Hollywood Style, Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Push, Whip, Jive, Shag, New Yorker, Bop, Ceroc, Leroc, Rock and Roll etc. Jitterbug was a slang or umbrella term for what we call "Swing dancing" today with the term Jitterbug initially enveloping all styles of swing. Depending on what City or State you came from and what year you may have danced. Each variant of swing that was danced was called the Jitterbug at one time or another. Today some people are trying to maintain it is only "Single or double rhythm East Coast swing" (Well ... yes it was!, as well as all the other forms mentioned above.) The W.W.II and the U.S.O. spread the Jitterbug all over the World.
Benny Goodman (1909-1986) is credited with establishing the Swing Craze as well as helping make the word jitterbug a household name. Goodman was signed to perform on the "National Biscuit Saturday Night " radio broadcasts in New York. Goodman would perform popular standards during the day for the popular radio hours in New York, but late at night, when New York was asleep, he would play some of his own music. Because of the national time difference, California being three hours behind, many younger Californians did lend an ear.
During the spring of 1934, RCA-Victor Records Company signed Goodman's Band. That Summer he went on the road and toured the Ballrooms, despite having his own music, he was told to play the standards, as earlier attempts to play his music found much displeasure by the older ballroom dancers. This was to lead to a procession of failures (flops) on his tour, as no one eventually came. Nevertheless, when Goodman hit California, there was about to be a transformation.
The first successful stop was Sweet's Ballroom in Oakland, Ca. young adults lined up for blocks to hear and dance to Goodman's new music, They Jitterbugged all night long. This was ACTUALLY the first "Un-official" start of the Jitterbug craze and the Big Swing Bands. (Goodman wouldn't believe his success, thought it was some flook.) Descending the coast to his next and final, would be a permanent stop he thought on his tour was in Los Angeles at the "Palomar Ballroom." This would become the first "Officially recorded start of the Jitterbug" and Swing Bands.
Originally, before his successfulness at Sweets ballroom, the Palomar Ballroom was to be the final stop of Goodman's tour (as well as to be their final gig, forever, due to all his previous touring failures.) The show at the Palomar was jammed with young adults that were listening to Goodman's prior New York broadcast's on the radio, due to the earlier time frame between New York and California, the young adults on the East Coast didn't listen to his music. Benny Goodman became a TREMENDOUS sensation at the Palomar (to his surprise); these 'West Coast kids' and adults were jitterbugging all night long and loving it. The newspapers loved it as well and reported on the "jitterbugging" done at the Palomar.
From there, Goodman went on to Chicago (another success,) then finally arriving back in New York, where he formerly had his first dismal turnout but not now, after the Palomar on this "would be" famous tour. In the summer of 1936, the Paramount Theater in New York, on hearing of his achievement in California, hired his band to play. Goodman's West Coast success prior at the Palomar and was rivaled only by New York's Paramount Theater as the kids were now again "Jitterbugging in the Isles." The newspapers reported on his band's success and about the dancing. Again, the reporters used the term "Jitterbug" in their columns and the term "Jitterbug," after that day, publicly was here forever.
So if you "Swing Dance," whatever style it may be, YOU are a Jitterbug, "Believe it or Not!"
Many folks ask what style of swing (Jitterbug) is best, West Coast, East Coast, Whip, Push, Lindy, Shag etc. However, there is no best style. The best style would depend on what type of music you are dancing to at the time, Geographies, the theme of the dance being held, the speed in which the music is played and the dance knowledge of you and or your partner. If you're partner only knows one style of swing, then their style would be the best style to dance with them at that time. If they only know one style they usually will declare that the style they know is the best style above all others and usually will make derogatory statements for many varied reasons.
Swing (Jitterbug) is a wonderful dance form in all it's versions that fits all types of music, personalities, finances etc. Calling yourself a swing dancer means you can at least do the basics in many forms of swing and a few well. So learn to swing dance whatever style, you're unique and your dances should be varied and your style should represent your knowledge of dance that other, newer dancers (and they are the majority) don't possess, not limited to only one. However you will eventually find you like them all and soon you will understand the importance of them all as well as understand why there are different styles to begin with. So enjoy them and mainly smile, laugh and have fun.
1) According to Arthur Murray in his book "Down Memory Lane," The closest circumstance to the Lindy or Jitterbug in the 18th century was the Allemande.