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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, #1

Razaf’s hits

Andy Razaf was one of the most accomplished and influential lyricists of the 20th century. He claimed to have written his first poem at the age of 10 (1905).

*He had his first Broadway song in 1913 when he was 18 (“Baltimo” in The Passing Show of 1913) and his last published song in 1972 when he was 77.

*He was a leader in the so called “New Negro Movement” before l920, part of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and a Black protest lyricist afterwards (“Black and Blue”). Razaf came by his activism naturally because the “fires of race love burned fiercely” in him as he looked at the music scene in America. He quietly mocked other Black musicians during the first half of the 20th century if they left the cause behind and became entertainers for the White majority culture. Composers and musicians such as “Fats” Waller, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Erskine Hawkins, Count Basie and Louie Armstrong, who were immensely popular with White audiences but left Harlem behind as they conquered Tin Pan Alley, received luke-warm praise from Razaf. He did not want to leave Harlem behind, and paid the price in popularity and income.

*He played professional baseball as a pitcher for the Naco Giants in Cleveland, Ohio in 1920.

*Barry Singer claims he wrote lyrics for over 800 songs, and in l971 he was initiated into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, in only its second year of existence.

*He is the best known lyricist for the popular composer and entertainer, Thomas “Fats” Waller.

*He wrote for Broadway (Blackbirds of l932, Hot Chocolates), nightclub floorshows (Hot Chocolates, Keep Shufflin’), Hollywood (Tin Pan Alley), big bands (“In the Mood,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy”), and Tin Pan Alley (“S’posin,” “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You”).

*In 1946 he entered New Jersey politics and ran for city council of Englewood as an Independent. He lost in a controversial election to the Republican candidate, Albert Moskin, who later became the mayor of Englewood in the late 1950s.

The lyrics of his life

The early years of Razaf

However, the most intriguing and unusual aspect of Andy Razaf’s life is his birth. He was born in 1895 in Madagascar with the impossible name of Andreamenentania Paul Razafinkeriefo and he was the son of a Madagascar prince. His grandfather, John Louis Waller (interesting enough, no relation to “Fats” Waller), was reportedly the first Black American in the American diplomatic corps who was appointed US Consul to Madagascar in l891. Waller had been a slave and a Republican activist in Kansas during Reconstruction. President William Harrison, as a political reward, appointed him Consul to the island kingdom. Harrison believed that an African-American could work with the local populace to thwart French designs on the independent country. Consul Waller arranged for his 15-year-old daughter, Jennie, who accompanied him to Madagascar, to marry Prince Henry Razafinkarefo, nephew of Queen Ranavalona III. Queen Ranavalona was the last monarch of the Kingdom of Madagascar and a Bible believing protestant educated by the London Missionary Society in London, England. Henry and Jennie quickly had a child, Andrea (Andy). Meanwhile, John Waller was promoting Madagascar to American blacks for colonization. The French were agitated with this colonization effort so they invaded the island, beginning the Franco-Hova War. The French quickly ended the “war” and annexed Madagascar as a French colony. During the “war,” Jennie’s husband, Prince Henry, was killed and John Waller was imprisoned. Jennie, pregnant with her son, quickly fled Madagascar back to America where she settled in Washington, DC and gave birth to Andrea in l895. In 1900, mother and son moved to Harlem in New York City where Andy Razaf would begin his song writing career as a teenager.

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