Pianist/composer/bandleader Earl “Fatha” Hines first recorded “Rosetta” with his orchestra on February 13, 1933, then again on September 24, 1934. The lyric was written by his band’s arranger Henri Woode.
Western swing bandleader Bob Wills contributed to the popularity of “Rosetta,” which he first recorded in 1938 and which became the name of his daughter, born in 1940. Wills regularly appeared live on Tulsa, Oklahoma’s radio station KVOO from 1934-1942, and his brother Johnnie Lee kept the program going when Bob left to serve in WWII.
The song was featured in the 1976 Broadway musical Bubbling Brown Sugar which ran for 766 performances. The Henry “Red” Allen All-Stars’ performance of “Rosetta” on the landmark TV program The Sound of Jazz in 1958 can now be seen on the DVD Jazz Masters: Vintage Collection 1958-61.
Hines led Chicago’s top band which at various times featured soon-to-be greats Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Billy Eckstine, and Sarah Vaughan. He was also the composer of “You Can Depend on Me,” “Deep Forest,” “My Monday Date,” “Stormy Monday” (not to be confused with the T-Bone Walker composition), and “Jelly Jelly,” the latter two hits for the Hines band with vocalist Eckstine. But Hines, who had aspired to a concert career, was best known as a piano virtuoso, and his recordings with Louis Armstrong in the late 1920’s are considered classic. He is the first of the modern pianists and his influence extends from Nat “King” Cole and Art Tatum onward. He broke with the stride players and developed his own dazzling style which Armstrong praised as trumpet-like.
Some have speculated that Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” (1940) was based on Hines’ “Rosetta,” but Brian Priestley in Chasin’ the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker refutes that notion in the notes to his book. “...When recorded in 1946, its second bar is played over IVm-bVII7 but, if ‘Rosetta’ was the chord-sequence, the melody would contain a raised 9th and flatted 9th.”
Nat “King” Cole, on piano, recorded a memorable version of “Rosetta” at the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in 1944, and more recently pianists Harold Danko and John Hicks included the song on their tributes to Earl Hines. Although vocalists Mildred Bailey, Anita O’Day, and country singer Willie Nelson have waxed the song, it is not often sung. But it’s been recorded by bassist Milt Hinton, violinist Stuff Smith, reed player Yusef Lateef, and bandleader Georgie Auld. It is a tune that appeals to guitarists, having been recorded by Django Reinhardt, Herb Ellis, Joe Pass, Charlie Byrd, and, more recently, by Dan Faehnle (2003), the dual guitars of Bucky Pizzarelli and Howard Alden (2004), and John Pisano (2007).