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Sugar (That Sugar Baby O' Mine) (1927)

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Origin and Chart Information
“This song ambles through a sophisticated chain of harmonies that has fascinated jazz players ever since its writing.”

- Spreadin' Rhythm Around

Rank 269
Words and Music Maceo Pinkard
Sidney D Mitchell
Edna Alexander

Maceo Pinkard wrote the all-black revue Liza in 1922, ran a theatrical agency and a music publishing business, and led his own orchestra. In addition to “Sugar” he collaborated on two other jazz standards, “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Them There Eyes.” His wife, Edna Alexander, collaborated on “Sugar” as did lyricist Sidney Mitchell (Sidney D. Mitchell), who also wrote the words for “You Turned the Tables on Me.”


More on Maceo Pinkard at JazzBiographies.com

David A. Jasen and Gene Jones in Spreadin’ Rhythm Around: Black Popular Songwriters, 1880-1930, explain the mystery surrounding Edna Alexander, variously credited as Edna Alexander Pinkard and Edna B. Pinkard. In 1919 a song crediting “Alex Belledna” was published, and in 1920 the name appeared on another composition, but in the small world of Tin Pan Alley no one knew this person. “In 1921 ‘Belledna’ shared credit with Maceo Pinkard and William Tracey on ‘’Tain’t Nothing Else But Jazz.’ To put speculation about the mysterious composer to rest, Variety reported on June 3, 1921, that ‘Alex Belledna’ was a pseudonym for Maceo Pinkard.” No one questioned why both Pinkard’s real name and pseudonym appeared on the same songs. “What the trade paper apparently did not know was that Pinkard had recently married an aspiring songwriter named Edna Belle Alexander.” She lists songs with this pseudonym in her ASCAP biography, including one with Andy Razaf, the “raunchy” “Kitchen Man” recorded by Bessie Smith. “Edna Alexander’s name appears on two Pinkard songs (‘Make Those Naughty Eyes Behave,’ in 1925, and ‘Sugar,’ in 1926), and the ‘Belledna’ alias appears on six unpublished songs with Pinkard.”

Jasen and Jones call the song “lazy-sounding” and “musically hip.” “This song ambles through a sophisticated chain of harmonies that has fascinated jazz players ever since its writing. Like ‘Sweet Georgia Brown,’ ‘Sugar’ never goes where it seems to be going, yet its harmonic destinations are always satisfying. Ethel Waters made the first recording of ‘Sugar’ on Feb 20, 1926, for Columbia. Pinkard provided her piano accompaniment.” The Paul Whiteman Orchestra took the song to the charts in 1928 where it peaked at number 19, and Vic Damone revived it in 1953 and it rose to number 13 on the charts.


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

The basically simple lyric to Pinkard’s composition is about love, describing the object of affection as “confectionery”:

I’d make a million trips to his lips
If I was a bee
Because they are sweeter
Than any candy to me

“Sugar,” an old-fashioned love song, appeared as an instrumental in the 1940 film Second Chorus. It has since been used in very diverse films: Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955) where it was sung by Peggy Lee with Matty Matlock’s Dixielanders; Woody Allen’s comedy Stardust Memories (1980); Gorillas in the Mist (1988), the story of scientist Dian Fossey; and Capote (2005), the story behind Truman Capote’s research for his book In Cold Blood.

“Sugar” was recorded by bandleader Adrian Rollini in 1929 and by Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Bing Crosby, and the bands of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Fletcher Henderson. Billie Holiday recorded it in 1939 with a septet led by pianist Teddy Wilson and featuring Benny Carter on alto sax. Gene Krupa’s band recorded an arrangement of the song by Gerry Mulligan, clarinetist Kenny Davern recorded it in 1994, Ralph Sutton included it in a stride piano tribute in 2000, and the Manhattan Transfer performed it live in Tokyo in 2003.

The Pinkard tune is not to be confused with another tune of the same name. Saxophonist Stanley Turrentine introduced his soulful, bluesy composition “Sugar” as the title cut of his 1970 album. It featured a memorable guitar solo by George Benson, and the tune became popular especially among saxophonists although it has also been recorded by vocalists with a lyric by Ted Daryll:

The Sugar drips
From her sweet lips
That sugar is mine
You bet your life
Sweet sugar like this
Would be hard to find

Sugar is also the title of a 1972 musical by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill based on the 1959 Billy Wilder movie Some Like It Hot in which Marilyn Monroe played the role of “Sugar.”

More information on this tune...

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages

(Hischak includes the history of the song and its performers in his encyclopedia.)

- Sandra Burlingame

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