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Honeysuckle Rose (1929)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Considered racy at the time, Andy Razaf’s lyrics are actually quite sweet.”

- JW

Rank 15
Music Fats Waller
Lyrics Andy Razaf

“Honeysuckle Rose” was introduced as a dance number in the 1929 revue, Load of Coal, at Connie’s Inn in Harlem by its composer, Thomas “Fats” Waller. “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” also written that year for the musical revue Hot Chocolates, would become the two most enduring compositions born of the longtime collaboration of Waller and lyricist Andy Razaf.

Other songs in Waller and Razaf’s Load of Coal score included the wistful “My Fate Is in Your Hands” and “Zonky.” The oddly titled “Zonky” was a song about a dance written in the spirit of “Walking the Dog” or “Balling the Jack.” The song warns the listener “Other dances, they may come and go but when you learn the Zonky you will want it to stay.”

According to the Kennedy Center’s website page, “A Place Called Harlem,” Connie’s Inn was a Harlem speakeasy that featured song and dance revues. Found at the intersection of 131st Street and 7th Avenue it was second in popularity only to the Cotton Club. The owners eventually opened the originally segregated club to blacks who were allowed to patronize the club after the whites had gone home. Fats Waller was in good company at Connie’s Inn, at least with regard to other performers which included the likes of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and Ethel Waters.


More on Fats Waller at JazzBiographies.com

More on Andy Razaf at JazzBiographies.com

Shortly after the opening of Load of Coal, “Honeysuckle Rose,” sung by Mildred Bailey, debuted on the air on Paul Whiteman’s Old Gold Show. Her double-tempo rendition is said to have been a setback for the song; subsequent recordings by Dave Wilborn with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (1930) and Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra (1931) did not become hits. Finally, in 1933, the public took notice with a Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra recording, which climbed the pop charts to number eighteen.

Recordings that made the pop charts include:

  • Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra (1933, #18)
  • Red Norvo and His Orchestra (1935, Mildred Bailey, Vocal, #9)
  • Fats Waller (1935, #17)
  • The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (1935, Don Mattison, Skeets Herfurt and Roc Hillman, vocals, #17)
  • Fats Waller, Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan, and Dick McDonough playing on A Jam Session at Victor (1937, #4)

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

More information on this tune...

W. T. Kirkeby
Ain't Misbehavin': The Story of Fats Waller
Da Capo Press
Paperback: 280 pages

(In Kirkeby’s biography of Waller, one page is given over to an anecdotal history of the song.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Fats Waller
Very Best of Fats Waller
Original recording 1937
This compilation treats us to two among the composer’s many performances of this tune. One presents a spirited small group featuring Bunny Berigan and Tommy Dorsey, while the other is a fascinating quasi-classical solo piano rendition.
Fletcher Henderson
Fletcher Henderson Story: Study In Frustration
1994 Sony 57596
Original recording 1932
Henderson’s arrangement of this tune stands as an important early example of his arranging style and would later be used by Benny Goodman. This exciting performance features the trombone of J.C. Higginbotham.
Thelonious Monk
The Unique Thelonious Monk
1991 Original Jazz Classics 64
Original recording 1956
Monk displays his unique mixture of reverence and innovation with a spirited take on this tune. Bassist Oscar Pettiford is featured prominently and drummer Art Blakey completes the trio.
Benny Carter
Further Definitions
1997 GRP 229
Original recording 1961
Carter revisits his arrangement from his classic 1930s collaboration with Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt. Carter and Hawkins are joined in the saxophone section by relative newcomers Phil Woods and Charlie Rouse.
Nat "King" Cole
Nat King Cole Trio: Instrumental Classics
Blue Note Records 98288
Original recording 1945
Cole’s spirited, up-tempo performance shows off his brilliant instrumental skills, as well as those of guitarist Oscar Moore.
Louis Armstrong
Satch Plays Fats: The Music of Fats Waller
2000 Sony 64927
Original recording 1955
Louis, trading vocals with Velma Middleton, offers a charming and lightly swinging version of this tune.
Sarah Vaughan
At Mister Kelly's
1991 Polygram 32791
Original recording 1957
Vaughan, backed by a swinging trio, gives us a typically masterful and playful performance, taken at a relaxed pace.

- Noah Baerman

Pearl Django
2000 Modern Hot Records

This quintet of violin, bass, and three guitarists (sometimes playing unusual models) has brought the lively sound of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France into the 21st century. They insert some amusing quotes into their improvisational playfulness.

- Sandra Burlingame

Django Reinhardt
All Star Sessions
2001 Blue Note 20591
Original recording 1937
An interesting track on an interesting album. The All Star sessions, compiled between 1935-39, highlight the guitarist’s work with American jazz greats touring Europe. This track features saxophone greats Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, who contributed the arrangement.
Erroll Garner
Body and Soul
1991, Sony 47035
Original recording, 1951, Legacy
This is an interesting take on the Waller tune as pianist Garner works through it with a trio. Though Garner was self-taught and could not read music, his stride playing is reminiscent of Waller yet distinct in its own style.

- Ben Maycock

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