[Dixielandjazz] Re:Black and Blue. The song

Bill Haesler bhaesler at bigpond.net.au
Fri Mar 18 01:21:11 PST 2005

Dear Mike and other interested listmates,
Oh dear. It's on again!
You said about the song "Black and Blue": >You must also consider the times
and the conditions that were taking place for a particular group of people
when the song was written. It was written by a black man who was describing
the conditions of racism and not being an equal person."<
Unfortunately this is not the case.
Here is what I wrote to the list on 1 Oct 2003, although it was prepared
much earlier for another list.
Kind regards,

"Black and Blue" - the song.

Let's not get too get carried away with mythical stuff about the 1929  Fats
Waller - Andy Razaf song "(What Did I Do To Be So) Black And Blue" being an
intentional 'black versus white' protest song!
As Steve [Barbone] correctly opined: "There was, and probably still is,
colour prejudice among black people regarding lightness of skin tone. The
song "Black & Blue" was originally about this occurrence"
In the book 'Black and Blue. The Life and Lyrics of Andy Razaf' by Barry
Singer (Schirmer Books 1992), it is all laid out.
The song started out as a late entry to the show 'Hot Chocolates', inserted
just before the show opened on Broadway in June 1929.
One night at the Connie's Inn, the gangster Dutch Schulz (who apparently was
financing the production) "asked" Andy Razaf to include a funny number with
a little coloured gal singing how tough it was to be coloured.
Razaf pointed out that he couldn't possibly write a song like that.
Schultz, enraged, pulled a gun and said that if he did not write it, he
would never write again.
OK. Razaf decided to do it his way and, using his partner Fats Waller,
acceded to Shultz's request.
Singer Edith Wilson introduced the song set on a white stage, bed dead
centre, with an enormous bed covered in white satin.
Miss Wilson (a large lady) in a white negligee (oooooooh!) sang:
"Out in the street,
Shufflin feet,
Couples passin' two by two.
While here am I,
Left high and dry,
Black, and 'cause I'm black I'm blue.
Razaf claimed that he wrote the piece to present the song (outwardly) as a
piece [please note] about prejudice between light and dark skinned blacks, a
practice that Razaf apparently despised.
"Browns and yellers,
all have fellers, 
gentlemen prefer them  light,
Wish I could fade,
can't make the grade.
Nothing but dark days in sight."

The chorus tells about a lonely woman.

" Cold empty bed, 
Springs hard as lead,
Pains in my head,
Feel like old Ned
What did I do,
To be so black and blue?
No joys for me,
No company,
Even the mouse
Ran from my house,
All my life through,
I've been so black and blue."

Then Razaf hit them with the bridge:

"I'm white, inside, that don't help my case
'Cause I, can't hide, what is on my  face"


"I'm so forlorn,
Life's just a thorn,
My heart is torn,
Why was I born?
What did I do,
To be so black and blue?

'Cause you're black,
Folks think you lack.
They laugh at you,
And scorn you too.
What did I do,
To be so black and blue?

When you are near,
They laugh and sneer,
Set you aside
And you're denied,
What did I do,
To be so black and blue?

How sad I am, each day I feel worse.
My mark of Ham seems to be a curse.

How will it end?
Ain't got a friend.
My only sin is in my skin.
What did I do to be so black and blue?"

Razaf later claimed that the first night audience's appreciation probably
saved him from Schultz when he quickly realised that he had 'commissioned' a
big hit. 
Louis was the first to record the tune (22 July 1929), but, as already
discussed, only sang a variation of the first chorus.
A week later (29 July 1929) Duke Ellington made a non-vocal version.
Blanche Calloway (Cab's sister) sang it on record (13 Aug 1929) with Ruben &
His River Boys. Verse, first chorus and the bridge from the second chorus
only. (And if you get a chance to hear this one, listen to Reeves trying,
very successfully, to out-blow Louis.)
The original singer of the song in the show, Edith Wilson, recorded it for
Brunswick in Nov 1929, and it is well worth a listen. But it is a slow,
spoken version, so she only has time for the verse and first chorus.
This is one of the first 'cast' recordings. And, perhaps, my favourite
version of the song.
But, I'm a nostalgic old fool.
Ethel Waters version on 1 April 1930 has all the lyrics (with minor
I suggest that the 'racial' significance came later, notwithstanding two
bridges of the original Razaf lyrics.
And let's not forget Fats Waller's musical contribution to a memorable song.
Kind regards,
PS: The Schultz/Razaf story was incorporated in the late 1990s in the Woody
Allen film "Bullets Over Broadway", about a gangster's bodyguard interfering
in the show-life of his boss's girlfriend.

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