Black Jazz on Broadway

The legacy of Ain’t Misbehavin’ is that the genius of Fats Waller might never have been recognized if this Broadway show, first appearing in 1978, had not been made. #jazz #broadway #fatswaller #aintmisbehavin #blackhistory

Long before the phrase “jukebox musical” became a major part of the theatre lexicon, a show featuring an all-Black cast singing largely forgotten songs by a Jazz pioneer took the world by storm.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ started out in a New York City theatre club, winning rave reviews, then moved to Broadway. It was an out-of-the-box smash, being nominated for five Tony Awards and winning three. In a strange twist of fate, two of the three actresses, Nell Carter and Charlaine Woodward, were nominated in the same category.

(l-r) Armelia McQueen, Nell Carter and Charlaine Woodward, 1978, promotion photo for Ain’t Misbehavin’. Photo Courtesy of Sony/BMG Masterworks.

Even after it’s record-breaking run, the longest for any Black musical in history up to that point, the program received a second life as an Emmy-winning television special on NBC in 1982. The original cast, which also featured Armelia McQueen, Ken Page and Andre De Shields, also mounted a revival of the program in 1988.

Carter of course would go onto mainstream success as the lead in the TV program Gimme A Break!, which ran for six seasons. McQueen and Woodward would have long and varied careers in other Broadway shows, television and films. Page still performs and works in film and stage, notably as a voice actor in The Nightmare Before Christmas, the original stage musical Cats as Old Deuteronomy and as Murray in the film Torch Song Trilogy.

(l-r) Ken Page and Andre De Shields, 1978, promotion photo for Ain’t Misbehavin’. Photo Courtesy of Sony/BMG Masterworks.

De Shields has had the longest Broadway, music, television and theatre career of them all, performing in The Wiz prior to Ain’t Misbehavin’, working as a choreographer for Bette Midler and just last year winning the Tony Award for Best Actor in Hadestown. The latter also brought De Shields a Grammy Award earlier this year.

“Jazz isn’t what you do; it’s how you do it.”

Fats Waller

The musical, which features very little dialoge, is all about the feel, the life and the sounds of Fats Waller, a musician who published over 400 songs, including many other classics that historians have attributed to him that he sold to other writers just to make money to live. A truly large man, he was 285 pounds and stood 5’10’ tall. He brought a pop sensibility to Ragtime music, helping to create a whole new type of Jazz that will always be linked to the Harlem Renaissance and the Prohibition Era.

Fats Waller, 1932. Photographer unknown, courtesy of Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Waller was most notably associated with what is called “stride piano”: the style is instantly recognizable, in which the right hand plays the melody while the left hand plays a single bass note or octave on the strong beat and a chord on the weak beat. His last major production was in the groundbreaking Black movie musical Stormy Weather, featuring Lena Horne and Cab Calloway. He died at just the age of 39 from pneumonia in 1943, months after the film brought him his biggest success.

First Part

  • Ain’t Misbehavin’/Lookin’ Good But Feelin’ Bad/’Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-Ness If I Do, Cast
  • The Ladies Who Sing With The Band, Ken Page and Andre De Shields
  • Yacht Club Swing, Charlaine Woodard
  • Cash For Your Trash, Nell Carter
  • The Viper’s Drag/The Reefer Song, Andre De Shields
  • Mean To Me, Nell Carter


  • Finale, cast
    I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter/Two Sleepy People/I’ve Got my Fingers Crossed/I Can’t Give You Anything but Love/It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie/Honeysuckle Band

Love to you all.

Ben “Daddy Ben Bear” Brown Jr. 
Host, Show Producer, Webmaster, Audio Engineer, Researcher, Video Promo Producer and Writer

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