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Thomas "Fats" Waller Recording Collection

Identifier: Thomas "Fats" Waller Recording Collection


The collection consists of twelve 10" 78 rpm recordings produced between 1935 and 1942.


  • Creation: 1935 - 1942

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the John M.K. Davis Reading Room of the Watkinson Library, Trinity College Library, Hartford, Connecticut. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws when using this collection.

Advance notice (2 weeks) is required to listen to sound recordings.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was born on May 21, 1904 in Harlem, New York. After first being exposed to church hymns and organ music, Waller launched a musical career that would establish him as one of the preeminent pianists of “stride” piano playing. The “stride” style is one in which the pianist plays the melody with the right hand, while the left hand plays a single base note or octave on the strong beats (1 and 3) and a chord on the weak beats (2 and 4). This style of piano playing had its origins in the ragtime of the previous decade. But unlike ragtime, stride pianists emphasized improvisation and their left hands would glide between extremely disparate notes to cover huge distances on the keyboard. Just look up “Ain’t Misbehavin’” on YouTube and the reader will see how virtuosic a player Waller was, with seemingly little effort in the hands, as well as vibrant and magnetic a personality.

When Waller was young, his mother found him a piano tutor, even though his father, a Baptist lay preacher, hoped that he would follow a religious calling. But when his mother passed away in 1920, Waller moved in with his teacher, Russell Brooks. While there, he also studied with the classical pianists Carl Bohm and Leopold Godowsky. Working with Brooks, Waller met the two greats of the stride piano world: James P. Johnson and Willie Smith. Two years later, in 1922, with the help of Johnson and Smith, who saw Waller as having great potential as a showman, Waller made his recording debut with the Okeh label. His career really took off when he signed onto the RCA Victor label in 1926. After, he appeared in films and toured Europe in 1938

In 1927, Waller met Andy Razaf, with whom he collaborated on writing musicals. Their work Hot Chocolates produced “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” which would become a favorite of Louis Armstrong. And as Christopher T. Blue notes, he wrote the first “non-black” musical for Broadway by a person of color, Early to Bed. Some other hits of his are “Honeysuckle Rose” and “The Joint is Jumpin.” Toward the end of his life, he appeared in films and toured Europe in 1938, and he spoke on the radio often. As Richard S. Ginell notes, Waller was infamous for his humor as an entertainer.

Waller died of pneumonia on December 15, 1943 at Missouri’s Union Station train depot. He has since influenced artists such as Count Basie, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, and Art Tatum. His genius lay in his ability to “life” a bandstand, infuse energy into an ensemble, play with a “muscular energy,” in the words of critic and poet Stanley Crouch. Crouch also says he was a great musical comedian, dangerous territory in the age of Jim Crow and racial violence.


.5 Cubic Feet

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Collection processed by Ben Gambuzza '20, edited by Henry Arneth
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Repository Details

Part of the Watkinson Library - Archival Collections Repository

Trinity College Library
300 Summit St.
Hartford Connecticut 06106