A short history of … “Ain’t Misbehavin'” (Fats Waller, Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf, 1929)

“Ain’t Misbehavin'” was composed in 1929 by Fats Waller and Harry Brooks, with lyrics by Andy Razaf. The song was specifically written as the opening number for the all-black musical revue titled Connie’s Hot Chocolates, hosted by the legendary Harlem nightclub Connie’s Inn. There, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” was sung by Margaret Simms and Paul bass.

The show was so successful that it soon moved to Broadway. It was renamed Hot Chocolates and premiered at the Hudson Theatre in June 1929, with trumpeter Louis Armstrong as its orchestra director. During intermission, Armstrong would get up on stage and perform a reprise of the opening number as a trumpet solo. This turned him into an overnight sensation and, as his popularity with audiences increased, his name was added to the posters of the show.

“Ain’t Misbehavin'” became one of the most successful songs of its day. Ted Gioia states that more than 20 artists recorded the song in 1929 alone, including Armstrong, Waller (an instrumental version) and Bill Bojangles with Irving Mills & his Hotzy Totsy Gang.

Waller re-recorded the song with vocals in 1943 for the film Stormy Weather. Produced by 20th Century Fox, Stormy Weather is regularly noted as one of the best musicals of its time to feature an African-American cast – along with MGM’s Cabin in the Woods, also released in 1943.

This Waller recording of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1984 and was one of fifty recordings selected for inclusion in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004.

“Ain’t Misbehavin'” has resurfaced many times over the years and interpreted by many jazz artists, including Anita O’Day, Nat “King” Cole, Django Reinhardt and Dave Brubeck. It was also adapted as a rockabilly tune by Bill Haley & His Comets in 1957 and sung by actor Burt Reynolds in the comedy film Lucky Lady (1975).

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