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On the Sunny Side of the Street (1930)

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Origin and Chart Information
“On this McHugh tribute album Cassandra Wilson delivers the song with an uncharacteristic melancholia that further enhances [Terence] Blanchard’s lovely, lyrical trumpet”

- Ben Maycock

Rank 55
Music Jimmy McHugh
Lyrics Dorothy Fields

On February 25, 1930, Harry Richman introduced “On the Sunny Side of the Street” in Lew Leslie’s International Revue at the Majestic Theater in New York City. The show ran for ninety-five performances, and, although a flop, the Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh score will long be remembered for producing the two hits, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Exactly Like You,” both of which became jazz standards.


More on Harry Richman at JazzBiographies.com

More on Lew Leslie at JazzBiographies.com

“On the Sunny Side of the Street” appeared on the pop charts first by Ted Lewis and His Orchestra in February of 1930. Shortly after, Harry Richman’s recording (which had “Exactly Like You” on the B-side) climbed to number thirteen. All told, the charting hits included

  • Ted Lewis and His Orchestra (1930, Ted Lewis, vocal, #2)
  • Harry Richman (1930, #13)
  • Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (1945, The Sentimentalists, vocal, #16)
  • Jo Stafford (1945, with the Pied Pipers and Paul Weston and His Orchestra, #17)

In addition, “Exactly Like You” was recorded by Ruth Etting, Sam Lanin, Benny Goodman, and Don Redman.


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

Only Broadway’s best were to survive during the Great Depression, and International Revue was not one of them. Despite the lavish budget, the cast (Gertrude Lawrence, Harry Richman, Jack Pearl, Anton Dolin, and Argentinita), dance direction by Busby Berkeley, and a McHugh/Fields score, the musical was not well thought out and disappointed critics and audiences alike. Overly long, the opening night show didn’t begin its second act until 11:00 P.M. The producers also miscalculated the appeal of Spanish dancer La Argentinita in her U.S. debut. Although she would later find international popularity, the International Revue audience did not understand her dancing, and many walked out during her performance. Gertrude Lawrence was particularly disappointed, counting International Revue as her third flop in a row.


More on Gertrude Lawrence at JazzBiographies.com

Jimmy McHugh is the published composer of “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” but there is at least a little doubt as to the song’s pre-publication origin. There are rumors that “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and “If I Had You” were originally Fats Waller compositions, ones he had composed and then sold the rights to for quick cash. Indirectly supporting the rumors is a document on the Rutgers-Newark Online website regarding their Dana Library Institute of Jazz Studies collection of Waller memorabilia:

[The collection] includes several drafts of music in Waller’s hand. These are basically early attempts (first versions or rough sketches) of songs Waller was writing, made in pencil on music manuscript paper ...the collection includes some instrumental parts in Waller’s handwriting (for “Walkin’ The Floor” and “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around”).

Though the 1935 copyright of “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around” attributes the music to Jimmy McHugh, the fact that these parts are in Waller’s handwriting argues strongly that he, not McHugh, was the original composer of the song (see Machlin, “Fats Waller Composes”, Annual Review of Jazz Studies 7, 1994-95, pp. 1-24).


More on Fats Waller at JazzBiographies.com

The strength of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” is its surprising and inventive melody. Regardless of who wrote the music, there is no denying the song’s tone is cheerful, buoyant, and bouncy. With Dorothy Fields’ casual, optimistic lyrics, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was a perfect pick-me-up for depression-weary listeners. In spite of its occasional characterization as a bumptious novelty song, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” has been a favorite of jazz greats, musicians and instrumentalists since its publication.


More on Jimmy McHugh at JazzBiographies.com

More on Dorothy Fields at JazzBiographies.com

More information on this tune...

George T. Simon
Big Bands Songbook
Barnes & Noble

(Simon devotes four pages to anecdotes and performers of the song and includes the sheet music.)

- Jeremy Wilson

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Young, clearly invigorated by the support of Peterson’s swinging trio, offers a creative, flowing performance on this medium-tempo track.
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Barron, with his dependable trio with bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Ben Riley, interprets “On the Sunny Side of the Street” with an impeccable sense of swing.
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The listener is thrown slightly off-kilter with this highly inventive version by trumpeter Payton. His arrangement makes the song almost unrecognizable as vocalist Dianne Reeves plays with tempo and harmony.
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While “On the Sunny Side of the Street” is a bonus track on Krall’s debut album, the song is a welcome addition. Krall’s wonderful vocal delivery and dynamic, rollicking piano make the song a highlight.

- Ben Maycock

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