Honeysuckle Rose House
The two-story house at 119 Atkins Avenue, Asbury Park played an important role in the careers of two iconic American songwriters. It was there, in December 1928, that Fats Waller and Andy Razaf wrote the song “Honeysuckle Rose.”
“Honeysuckle Rose” was introduced in the 1929 off-Broadway revue “Load of Coal.” The song would be recorded more than 500 times by artists including Fats Waller, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, and others. Fats Waller’s own 1934 recording was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
It was a defining piece for Waller and Razaf, who would go on to collaborate on other songs including “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “My Fate Is In Your Hands,” “Black And Blue,” “Blue Turning Gray,” and “When Gabriel Blows His Horn.”
Andy Razaf was the son of a Madagascar Duke and the daughter of an American consul. His father was killed during the French war that colonized Madagascar. His mother returned to the United States, where Andy was born in 1895. He grew up in Harlem and quit school at age sixteen to work as an elevator operator in Tin Pan Alley so he could peddle his songs. His mother remarried and moved to Asbury Park. As Jennie Coles, she and her husband, moved into 119 Atkins Avenue soon after the building was built in 1927. The downstairs served as a tea room while the Coles rented one of the two apartments located upstairs.
Andy Razaf, still living in Harlem at the time, was collaborating with Fats Waller, the acclaimed stride pianist and entertainer. Waller wrote the melodies and Razaf wrote the lyrics They were hired to write four songs for the upcoming musical, “Load Of Coal.” Knowing Waller was easily distracted by Harlem’s nightlife, Razaf insisted they write the songs at his mother’s place in Asbury Park.
Razaf rented a piano and had it delivered to 119 Atkins Avenue. There, they wrote “My Fate Is In Your Hands” and “Zonky.” They came up with a melody for the third number and Razaf came up with the line “Every bumblebee, fills with jealousy, when they see you out with me,” but had trouble finishing the line. Waller insisted he needed to get back to Harlem and headed for the train while Razaf thought of the last line – “Honeysuckle Rose.”
Fats Waller went on to become one of the best-known entertainers of the ’30s and ’40s. Andy Razaf went on to write lyrics for over a thousand more songs including “In The Mood,” “Stompin’ At The Savoy” and “Memories Of You.”
The building at 119 Atkins still stands, looking much as it did in the late 1920’s.
– By Dr. Charles Horner, Music Historian