The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Honeysuckle Rose

Honeysuckle Rose

#148 / Nov. 25 Podcast

“Honeysuckle Rose,” an absolute anthem of the Roaring Twenties, was born in a New York speakeasy almost a hundred years ago.

The story of the song’s roots is related by Barry Singer in his biography of lyricist Andy Razaf. The tune — or at least its title — was born at the Club Alabam in Harlem as far back as the winter of 1924, when a young Razaf won a chance to perform a song for which he would write both the words and music.

The whole business was staged at the club with full chorus of what Singer described as an "eye-pleasing bevy of show girls" billed as "The Honeysuckle Rosebuds." It was from those hoofers that Razaf picked his title: "Honeysuckle Rose."

The Name’s the Thing

Actually, Andy’s original melody was no great shakes — in fact, Razaf junked both it and the lyrics right after the show closed — but he just couldn’t forget that title.

Now fast-forward five years.

It’s 1929 and Razaf is working with his new partner — the great Fats Waller — to finish their third song for a soon-to-be-forgotten show called “Load of Coal.” We find Andy stitching his old title and a few other elements to the chorus. At some point, he decides he had better telephone Fats to check his work. It’s a good thing he does; over the phone, they have to add a new eight-bar bridge in the middle of the tune, because Waller can’t remember what he wrote the day before.

After many minutes of desperate humming and shouting back and forth, Razaf lays down the phone to dash to his piano and try out what they have. When he gets back, he finds the line is dead. Waller has gotten bored and hung up.

Neither Razaf nor Waller realize that they have written an immortal song. “We thought very little of it at the time," Razaf recalled.

(Of course, the tune would be recorded more than 500 times by major artists such as Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole and many others. Fats’ own 1934 recording was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.)

And From There…

“Honeysuckle Rose” was a defining piece for Waller and Razaf, who would collaborate on other memorable songs, including “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “My Fate Is In Your Hands,” “Black And Blue,” “Blue Turning Gray” and “When Gabriel Blows His Horn.”

While Waller became one of the best-known entertainers of the ’30s and ’40s, Razaf went on to write lyrics for over a thousand more songs, including “In The Mood,” “Stompin’ At The Savoy” and “Memories Of You.”

Oh and if you’re ever in Asbury Park, NJ, you can tour the house where Fats and Andy wrote the song. “The Honeysuckle Rose House” at 119 Atkins still stands, looking much as it did in the late 1920s. And has its own website.

Our Take On the Tune

You can learn about how versatile a band is by listening to its handling of instrumentals. Without the poetics of the lyrics or the theatrics of the singer, it’s up to the soloists to bring drama to the song. To hear what we mean, listen to this four-minute track from a recent Flood show.

Vanessa Coffman opens the action with her tasteful statement of the melody. Then about a minute in, she begins to weave and spin brilliant new threads on that old familiar frame with her tenor sax, beautiful work that then inspires her bandmate, guitarist Danny Cox, when he follows with some gorgeous strings of his own. Yes, Veezy and Danny bring the honey to this rose.

The Swing Channel

If you’d like more of this style of music, don’t miss the free Swingin’ Channel in our Radio Floodango music streaming service.

The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Each week The 1937 Flood, West Virginia's most eclectic string band, offers a free tune from a recent rehearsal, show or jam session. Music styles range from blues and jazz to folk, hokum, ballad and old-time. All the podcasts, dating back to 2008, are archived on our website; you and use the archive for free at: