BLACK AND BLUE by Barry Singer

BLACK AND BLUE

The Life and Lyrics of Andy Razaf
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Singer, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, offers a thoroughly researched life of Andrea Razafkeriefo (1895-1973)- -better known as ``Andy Razaf''--the African-American lyricist whose over 500 song lyrics include ``Ain't Misbehavin' '' and ``Honeysuckle Rose.'' Razaf's career--which he pursued with a variety of collaborators, including Thomas ``Fats'' Waller, Eubie Blake, and James P. and J.C. Johnson--spanned the years of Tin Pan Alley as well as the jazz and swing eras. Here, Singer's vivid descriptions of Tin Pan Alley business practices and of Harlem nightlife as they evolved through Prohibition, the Depression, and changing musical styles include a virtual who's who of the time's musical and nonmusical personalities, both black and white. Occasionally, the author buries his subject beneath this wealth of background material, a particularly unfortunate tendency since, as Singer points out, Razaf's reputation within his lifetime was often obscured by that of his more charismatic associates. His reputation was further hindered by numerous instances of racism, with the result that ``the association of the Razaf name, with his many successful songs and the potential value inherent in that association, never was realized as powerfully or as lucratively for Razaf as the associations promoted between the names and creative output of his foremost white peers.'' Singer quotes extensively from Razaf's lyrics, often to illustrate his response to racism-- but the author ultimately sheds little light on the technical craft of Razaf's words, especially as compared to that of Berlin, Porter, etc., even though Razaf's writing shows similarities with the greats that ``only heighten the inequality of his long-term failure as a commercial songwriter.'' The author also appends an ``informal, highly selective'' discography and a song list that show some discrepancies with the text (for example, ``Ain't-Cha' Glad'' is listed in the appendix with a publication date of 1929 but in the text with a date of 1933). An informed and accessible, if overly detailed, work on an important but neglected figure. (Forty-five photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1992
ISBN: 0-02-872395-3
Page count: 420pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1992