Black and Blue: The Life and Lyrics of Andy Razaf

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Schirmer Books, 1992 - Music - 444 pages
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Black and Blue is the triumphant story of the African-American experience on Broadway, seen through the rediscovered life of a unique lyric-writing genius. Born Andrea Razafkeriefo - a direct descendant of the royal family of Madagascar - in 1895, Andy Razaf's life is a tale of breathtaking lyric talent ending in obscurity, set against Prohibition-era Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Harlem "after-hours" nightclubs and speakeasies.
After a brief pitching career in Cleveland with a semi-pro offshoot of the now-legendary Negro Leagues, Razaf turned to songwriting, creating with partners Thomas "Fats" Waller, stride piano giant James P. Johnson, and Eubie Blake such landmark standards as "Memories of You," "Honeysuckle Rose," "The Joint Is Jumpin'," "Ain't Misbehavin'," and "Black and Blue" - more than 800 songs from the bawdy blues "My Handy Man" to the big band hit "Stompin' at the Savoy." His first professional song, "Baltimo'," was performed in The Passing Show of 1913 at the Winter Garden Theatre when he was seventeen years old. After a series of setbacks, he went on to write for the Creole Follies, a 1924 nightclub revue at the whites-only Club Alabam in Times Square, with Fletcher Henderson leading the orchestra. Keep Shufflin', in 1928, Razaf's first Broadway show, was a jet-propelled musical entertainment ("there is no adagio anything," wrote one opening night reviewer) bankrolled by gangster Arnold Rothstein, who was the victim of a mob hit during the show's road tour. The nightclub revue Hot Feet followed - and quickly moved from Harlem to Broadway as Connie's Hot Chocolates with the backing of legendary gangster Dutch Schultz. A frenzied spectacle of a musical, Connie's Hot Chocolates featured a cast of 85, Louis Armstrong in the pit, and a score that included "Ain't Misbehavin"' and "Black and Blue." Despite these successes, Razaf was invited to compose only one more musical for Broadway, Blackbirds of 1930. He continued, however, to write nightclub revues prolifically throughout the 1930s, culminating in the 1940 show Tan Manhattan with Eubie Blake. Showing another side of his artistry, his classic swing-era lyric compositions include "Stompin' at the Savoy" and the incomparable "In the Mood."
Black and Blue features deeply etched portraits of many of the most important and beloved musicians of this period, including the irrepressible J.C. Johnson, who was in many ways Razaf's alter ego...James P. Johnson, the dean of Harlem piano players, shy, reserved, and noted for his landmark improvisations...stride pianist Willie "the Lion" Smith, the fast-talking embodiment of Harlem in the Twenties, whose powerful left hand could swing a cabaret room into submission...the blustering impresario Lew Leslie, dubbed the "Black Ziegfeld"...and Thomas "Fats" Waller, whose unquenchable pianistic and melodic gifts transformed him into a star of the Harlem rent-party circuit and an international celebrity.
Razaf lived to be proudly inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame, and soon after his death in 1973, his lyric talent proved crucial to the success of the Broadway musicals Bubbling Brown Sugar, Ain't Misbehavin', Eubie, and Black and Blue. Barry Singer has enjoyed unrestricted access to Razaf's letters, scrapbooks, and family albums. Black and Blue is a sensitive account of the emergence of a distinctive African-American musical theatre - the pervasive racism surrounding it, and the immense artistry that remains its glorious legacy.

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Black and blue: the life and lyrics of Andy Razaf

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With geniuses like Gershwin and Porter at their peaks, the 1920s were thrilling years for Broadway and Tin Pan Alley. Uptown in Harlem, talented musicians and composers were working to shed the image ... Read full review


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About the author (1992)

Singer writes about music and theater for the New York Times. He is also the proprietor of the independent Chartwell Booksellers in New York City.

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