Case in Point

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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Andy Razaf, lyricist (1895-1973): “Black and Blue” and, maybe white all over, #2

The lyrics of Razaf’s life

The middle years of Razaf

Razaf married Annabelle Miller in l915 when he was 19 and she was 24. Barry Singer states that she was “God-fearing.” By 1921, Andy was catting around with the Harlem music crowd. Annabelle’s niece, Edna, wrote, “Andy was discovering wonderful, wicked Harlem. He was learning the morality of show people. I would meet him on the street now with a strange young woman and he would run away from me with no greeting.” All the while, Annabelle, religious, quiet and devoted to Andy stayed home, alone. On Christmas 1926, Annabelle sent Razaf an achingly poignant letter in which she wrote, “It is about five years since we have had a home of our own, and have spent a Christmas together in it. Tho there is little spirit of love in our home, let us at least pretend to each other and make it as bright as possible this Christmas day at home. For we know not how long we may be together. God or we ourselves may cause a change. So let us make the home happy at least for today. A Merry Christmas to you and a long and prosperous life.” Razaf never returned home for any future Christmas or any length of time. He never divorced Annabelle but simply abandoned her and denied her existence.

Razaf married a second time (without getting a legal divorce from Annabelle) in l939 to Jean Blackwell, a beautiful and bright but immoral woman, who knew of his womanizing, first failed marriage and lack of a legitimate divorce decree. After more womanizing and wife-beating, Razaf divorced (really) Jean in 1947 and illegally married Dorothy Carpenter in l948. Rev. Emory B. Smith, pastor of the Lincoln Memorial Temple in Washington, DC, officiated at the third wedding ceremony.

The later years of Razaf

In l951, Razaf was stricken with syphilis, a disease which ravaged the Black entertainment world in much of the early 20th century. The syphilitic attack paralyzed him for the rest of his life. Furthermore, the pain was so intense that he became addicted to drugs to dull the agony. Apparently, something happened in these years because as he was confined to a wheelchair, Razaf began to rethink his religious convictions and write lyrics which reflected a Christian worldview (“All the Way for Jesus,” “Am I My Brother’s Keeper”) and use religious language in his speech. In l952 he wrote the lyrics for an inspirational song called “Why” with the words, “You are the answer, why should I lie? I’m lost without you, now you know why.” In a letter to a female friend later that year he wrote that “God is good.” In l953 he began a two-year stint of writing an inspirational column for the Los Angeles Herald-Dispatch, a Black weekly newspaper, in which he extolled the virtues of brotherhood and fundamental Christianity. In the late 1950s, Andy began to collect more than 1000 of his poems for a never-published book entitled The Trumpet Sounds. The extended Razaf family was involved in the Los Angeles Baha’I movement.  In l959, Razaf, now in a wheelchair because of syphilis, caught Dorothy having sex with Charles Lampkin, the Black actor living in their home. A quick divorce ensued and Andy was once again living alone.

But not for long, because in l963, this 67-year-old invalid married for a fourth time, to Alicia Wilson, a 43-year-old white entertainer from Tacoma, Washington whom he had met 30 years earlier (in 1934) in Chicago when she was only 14 years old and went night-clubbing with him. Later she found herself naked in his bed. Weird stuff.

Andy Razaf died in l973 officially from kidney failure but he was a physical wreck inside.

My favorite Razaf songs: “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “In the Mood,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy”

Personal observations

What to make of Razaf’s religious convictions? Clearly, he lived an immoral life for much of his earthly sojourn. He treated women terribly. The only reason he wasn’t an alcoholic like his better known song writing partner, “Fat” Waller, was because he couldn’t physically tolerate much liquor. In a taped conversation with his old friend Eubie Blake just a few years before Razaf’s death, Blake said, “You were the most prolific writer that I ever worked with in my life.” Razaf, unbidden to be theological, replied, “God was with me, I never had to hesitate.” We shall see if he who hesitates is lost.

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