Thursday, June 30, 2022

Ain’t Misbehavin’ and B.R.O.K.E.N code B.I.R.D switching: Something About Race

Allison Blackwell, Jarvis B Manning Jr., Maiesha McQueen, Arnold Harper II and Anastacia McCleskey in Ain't Misbehavin'. (Photo: Daniel Rader)

The 1978 revue Ain’t Misbehavin’ walked away with the Tony Award, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award and jump-started the careers of Nell Carter and Andre De Shields. It also introduced Fats Waller, composer and ragtime pianist, to a new generation of music lovers. Richard Maltby, Jr., who conceived the show and directed the original production, compiled Waller’s signature songs and some less recognizable ones in a tribute to the musical Harlem of the twenties, thirties and forties. I remember being startled by the number of tunes I already knew but had no idea Waller had written – often with Andy Razaf as lyricist. I could identify him as the composer of “Honeysuckle Rose” and “The Joint Is Jumpin’” and the title song, but I hadn’t associated him with “Squeeze Me” (lyrics by Clarence Williams), “I Got a Feeling I’m Falling” (co-written by Harry Link, with lyrics by Billy Rose), “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” or the iconic “Black and Blue,” the unforgettable Louis Armstrong cover of which plays a vital role in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.