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Vintage sheet music for
music by Paul Denniker
words by Andy Razaf
1929, Rudy Valleé on cover
Born: Andrea Paul Razafkeriefo, December 16, 1895, Washington, DC (US)
Died: February 3, 1973 (age 77) North Hollywood California
Primary songwriting role: lyricist; also occasional composer
Co-writers: frequently Eubie Blake, Harry Brooks, Paul Denniker, James P. Johnson, J.C. Johnson, and Fats Waller. For songs written with these co-writers and 22 others, view the DBOPM database.
Andy Razaf began life with the formidable name Andriamanantena Paul Razafinkarefo, a name not likely to have fared well on the covers of American sheet music. Razaf, who later shortened his name, was conceived in Madagascar, an island nation off the East coast of Africa. His father, a member of the royal family, was killed during a political upheaval that led to French colonization of the country. His mother, an American, was the daughter of the American Consul to Madagascar at the time time of the turmoil. The consul, Razaf's grandfather, -- probably the first African American to hold such a post -- and his pregnant daughter fled Madagascar home to the United States, resulting in Andy being born in Washington, DC, in 1895. As Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball put it, "Andy Razaf unquestionalby had the most unusual bacground of any American lyricist" (Zinsser, p. 247).
Razaf's family moved from Washington to Harlem in New York City where he was raised. He commenced his working life as an elevator operator in a downtown building onTin Pan Alleywhich led him to pitching and selling his first song in 1913. Before finding great success as a lyricist he also pitched baseballs for Negro minor league teams in Cleveland and New York and worked at various other odd jobs. Razaf also tried his hand at writing poetry, in fact publishing some protest poems for "The New Negro Movement" just before and during the early twenties, a time when the arts were beginning to flourish in Harlem in what became known as the Harlem Renaissance.
It may have been these publications that caught the attention of Thomas Fats Waller. In any case in 1921, Razaf met the irrepressible younger man, an innovative singer, pianist and composer with whom he would write some of his most famous songs, such standards as "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Honeysuckle Rose." A denizen of the Harlem clubs, Razaf also met up with many of the musicians and songwriters with whom he eventually collaborated such as Willie “the Lion” Smith, Eubie Blake (They wrote "Memories of You" together.), James P. Johnson and Harry Brooks.
Razaf continued his activism for African American causes throughout his life but will be remembered mostly as a songwriter for Harlem and Broadway revues and for Tin Pan Alley. He was admitted to the American Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972.
Gottlieb and Kimball sum up Razaf's career thusly:
Although he is certainly the finest of all black lyricists, to pigeon hole him that way is limiting, even though so much of his material reflects the life of blacks in America. It would be fairer just to say that the astoundingly productive and talented Razaf is one of America's best songwriters. His reputation, which had sadly diminished, was revived with the great success of the 1978 Fats Waller show, Ain't Misbehavin', which featured more than half a dozen Razaf lyrics and ended movingly with the cast of five quietly singing, "My only sin is in my skin. What did I do to be so black and blue?" (p. 247 hard cover Ed.).
cast of Ain't Misbehavin' singing "Black and Blue"
words by Andy Razaf, music by Fats Waller
William Zinsser comments on the subservient position black songwriters were forced to assume during "the golden age" of American songwriting, Razaf sometimes escaping such treatment:
It was the black songwriters' fate, however, to be born too soon. The white establishment shut them out. Broadway producers wouldn't use their songs in white musicals, and music publishers treated them degradingly, buying their songs for $25 or $50 and publishing them as the work of the firm's white writers. Only a few born-in-Harlem hits achieved national fame on their own -- mainly songs of the late 1920's and early 1930's, such as "Ain't Misbehavin'," Honeysuckle Rose" and "Keeping Out of Mischief Now," by Razaf and Fats Waller.
Andy Razaf (words) and Fats Waller and Harry Brooks (music) wrote "Ain't Misbehavin'" for the revue Connie's Hot Chocolates which began it's life as a floor show at Connie's Club in Harlem and then moved to the Hudson theater on Broadway in June, 1929. Not only were Razaf's and Waller's careers kick started by "Ain't Misbehavin'" in this all black cast show, but so was the fabulous rise of Louis Armstrong, who would "nightly rise from the orchestra pit to offer a stage solo on 'Ain't Misbehavin',' the show's smash hit, which also yielded a classic recording for him on OKeh [records]" (Shaw, p. 222, hard cover Ed.).
Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra perform "Ain't Misbehavin'" (words by andy Razaf, music by Fats Waller and Harry Brooks) in 1929, the same year it was written for and performed in Connie's Hot Chocolates -- with Armstrong in the pit.
(same track as on album at right)
"In the Mood" (music adapted by Joe Garland, lyric by Andy Razaf) is usually thought of as strictly Big Band instrumental -- best known as Glenn Miller's theme song. But it has been recorded several times with vocal: by The Andrews Sister (above), The King Sisters, Bette Middler and others.
20th Century Masters:
The Millennium Collection:
Best Of The Andrews Sisters
note: According to Ken Bloom in his book The American Songbook, The Singers, The Songwriters and the Songs, the 1937 tune now known as "In the Mood" was originally by Joe Garland and Wingy Manone and titled "Tar Paper Stomp." Garland adapted it for "In the Mood" and "Razaf added a fine (if often ignored) lyric." Garland tried to interest Artie Shaw but he turned it down. Miller saw it, "made a few cuts" and the rest is history (Bloom, p. 302).
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