The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
On the Sunny Side of the Street

On the Sunny Side of the Street

#122 / Sept. 16 Podcast

Controversy surrounds the question of who actually wrote the 1930 standard “On the Sunny Side of Street.”

If you rely only on what is printed on the sheet music, you see Jimmy McHugh listed as the composer. So, why is there an enduring legend in jazz circles that the melody actually was written by The Flood’s great hero Fats Waller?

To this day, Waller’s contribution to the melody line remains unconfirmed, but there is some compelling evidence that the tune might have been his work.

For starters, early drafts of the song appear to be in Fats’ own handwriting. In addition, it is well documented that during some hard times in the late 1920s, Waller was writing and selling a number of tunes to other songwriters.

Maurice Waller Weighs In

Finally, consider the testimony of Fats’ son Maurice, in his 1977 book, Fats Waller. “Sometimes I’d inadvertently play a song he had sold to another composer and all hell would break loose,” Maurice wrote in the memoir.

“One afternoon I was playing, ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,’ and he heard me. Dad came storming down the stairs in a rage. ‘Maurice, I don’t want you to ever play that damn song. I don’t want you to even whistle it. Do you understand?’

“I didn’t understand, but later on he explained how he had sold that tune and other tunes just for drinking money, and it bothered him terribly that they had become hits.”

And what about “On the Sunny Side of the Street”? Here’s what Maurice Waller wrote about that:

“The most vivid memory I have of one of those incidents dates back to the time when … Dad was listening to the radio one Sunday afternoon. Suddenly he became infuriated and smashed his fist through the living room’s beautiful glass French doors. The song was ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street,’ a hit record credited to Jimmy McHugh. Dad had sold the song for a few bucks when he was broke back in the ‘20s. McHugh also ‘wrote’ ‘I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.’”

The Lyrics

Meanwhile, authorship of the lyrics of both those song — the work of teacher/poet Dorothy Fields — has never been questioned.

Fields, who died in 1974 at age 69, was the first woman inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She met Jimmy McHugh in 1927 and began a seven-year partnership that produced some of her greatest lyrics, from “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” to “I’m in the Mood for Love,” which was her first song to rise to No. 1 on the Hit Parade.

Well, who ever wrote the melody — Fats Waller or Jimmy McHugh — the wonderfully bright, cheerful and engaging “On the Sunny Side of the Street” has been a favorite of musicians and audiences since it first came out. Ted Lewis made the first recording in 1930.

But it was Louis Armstrong who recorded the classic rendition in 1934 and the song became closely associated with him. Other versions include those by Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman with Peggy Lee, Dave Brubeck and Jimmy Smith. Arguably the most popular arrangement was by Tommy Dorsey and the Sentimentalists, which achieved chart success in 1945, reaching the No. 16 spot on the Billboard charts.

Our Take on the Tune

This 2022 take of our old favorite was the very first tune we played on a happy summer evening at the Bowen House just a few weeks ago.

Veezy Coffman was just back from a month’s vacation with her family and everyone in the room was so happy to see and hear her again, as you can here right here.

The Flood has been loving this tune for more than 20 years. For instance, it was the 11th track on our first album back in 2001, with Joe Dobbs and Sam St. Clair rocking the solos on a rather mellow instrumental rendition. Click the button below to hear it:

2001 Instrumental

A few years later, the song began a long love affair with Floodster Emerita Michelle Lewis (now Michelle Hoge). In fact, it was the first song she sang in public with the band.

The event occurred as the band traveled into the eastern mountains to play at the 2nd annual Snowshoe Institute, a cooperative arts project by Marshall University, West Virginia University, the W.Va. Humanities Council and Snowshoe Mountain.

Joe asked engineer George Walker, Michelle’s husband, to record the evening’s performances for use on his “Music from the Mountains,” so we have this recording of Michelle’s maiden flight with The Flood, complete with Joe’s introduction:

Michelle's Debut Number

Yes, all sunny, all the time.

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: