Born and raised in Harlem, Thomas Wright Waller worked as a delivery
boy for a delicatessen run by brothers Connie and George Immerman.
The pair later opened Connie's Inn, a Harlem nightclub that brought
the all-black musical revue Hot Chocolates—and its talented
composer, Fats Waller—to audiences before it moved on to Broadway.
Waller learned to play the piano at age six. With his minister father
preaching at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, Waller's first audience
was the local congregation. His first paid gig was to accompany silent
movies on the pipe organ at the Lincoln Theatre; from there, he moved
on to playing at rent parties and in cabarets.
Waller's true genius lay in composing. The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra
performed several works of his creation, notably "Whiteman Stomp."
His partnership with lyricist Andy Razaf resulted in such famous songs
as "Honeysuckle Rose," as well as hit musicals that included
Keep Shufflin'. Razaf and Waller also collaborated to produce
Hot Chocolates in 1929; with trumpeter Louis Armstrong headlining
its Broadway cast, the musical brought fame to the Waller-Razaf tune
If an exuberant stage presence was Waller's trademark, musical innovation
was his legacy. He raised the Harlem stride style of piano playing—characterized
by an oompah beat in the left hand and syncopation in the right—to
a fine art. Fusing elements of blues, classical music, boogie-woogie,
and ragtime with stride, Waller fashioned a new sound that was uniquely