I learned this song from my Grandpa, who was the eldest Vi of the Vi Squad. My grandpa played the tune on guitar, and he actually learned the tune from Andy May. I have some great memories of playing Honeysuckle Rose with my Grandpa. He was truly a great man.
This recording of Honeysuckle Rose comes from a Christina Gressianu photo exhibition at Darvier (a fancy Fort Collins Jeweler.) The exhibition was great – including the awesome potato latke’s from International Appetite catering.
If you like this tune, I have another video of honeysuckle rose, with me singing it, and playing it with a full band. This recording is from the CD Release party for my most recent album Long Time Comin’.
Honeysuckle Rose Lyrics
Every honey bee fills with jealousy
When they see you out with me
I don’t blame them
When you’re passin’ by,
Flowers droop and sigh
I know the reason why
You’re much sweeter
Well, don’t buy sugar
You just have to touch my cup
You’re my sugar
And it’s oh so sweet when you stir it up
When I’m takin’ sips
From your tasty lips
Seems the honey fairly drips
Honeysuckle Rose according to JazzStandards.com
Music: Fats Waller
Lyrics: Andy Razaf
“Honeysuckle Rose” was introduced as a dance number in the 1929 revue, Load of Coal, at Connie’s Inn in Harlem by its composer, Thomas “Fats” Waller. “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” also written that year for the musical revue Hot Chocolates, would become the two most enduring compositions born of the longtime collaboration of Waller and lyricist Andy Razaf.
Other songs in Waller and Razaf’s Load of Coal score included the wistful “My Fate Is in Your Hands” and “Zonky.” The oddly titled “Zonky” was a song about a dance written in the spirit of “Walking the Dog” or “Balling the Jack.” The song warns the listener “Other dances, they may come and go but when you learn the Zonky you will want it to stay.”
According to the Kennedy Center’s website page, “A Place Called Harlem,” Connie’s Inn was a Harlem speakeasy that featured song and dance revues. Found at the intersection of 131st Street and 7th Avenue it was second in popularity only to the Cotton Club. The owners eventually opened the originally segregated club to blacks who were allowed to patronize the club after the whites had gone home. Fats Waller was in good company at Connie’s Inn, at least with regard to other performers which included the likes of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and Ethel Waters.
Shortly after the opening of Load of Coal, “Honeysuckle Rose,” sung by Mildred Bailey, debuted on the air on Paul Whiteman’s Old Gold Show. Her double-tempo rendition is said to have been a setback for the song; subsequent recordings by Dave Wilborn with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (1930) and Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra (1931) did not become hits. Finally, in 1933, the public took notice with a Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra recording, which climbed the pop charts to number eighteen.
Recordings that made the pop charts include:
- Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra (1933, #18)
- Red Norvo and His Orchestra (1935, Mildred Bailey, Vocal, #9)
- Fats Waller (1935, #17)
- The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (1935, Don Mattison, Skeets Herfurt and Roc Hillman, vocals, #17)
- Fats Waller, Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan, and Dick McDonough playing on A Jam Session at Victor (1937, #4)
Chart information used by permission from Joel Whitburn’s Pop Memories 1890-1954
Music and Lyrics Analysis
Considered racy at the time, Andy Razaf’s lyrics are actually quite sweet. The verse is rarely sung, beginning with
Have no use for sweets of any kind, since the day you came around…
although it is included on Mildred Bailey’s The Rockin’ Chair Lady (1931-1950) Verve 644. The slangy chorus is a succession of praises for “My Honeysuckle Rose,” the one who makes the honeybee jealous and the flowers droop and sigh. -JW
Musical analysis of “Honeysuckle Rose”
Original Key F major
Form A – A – B – A
Tonality Major throughout
Movement The downward movement of “A” is step followed by a leap; then it arpeggiates up in “B, scalewise.
Comments (assumed background)
This is a bouncy tune requiring some dexterity. Harmonic progression is neither unusual nor difficult, going from ii – V7 or ii – V7 –I most of the time. The harmonic progression of “B” is a variation on the one also found in the “B” sections of “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” “Cloudburst,” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Since the melody ascends step-wise at this point, it is IMPERATIVE that the bass line move in contrary motion, i.e. downwards. Otherwise, the identical line appears in both the melody and the bass line, creating parallel octaves and a great deal of boredom.
K. J. McElrath – Musicologist for JazzStandards.com
Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
The Fats Waller composition, “Honeysuckle Rose,” seems to be one of the most played standards ever. Charlie Parker used the harmony of the A section (first eight measures) on his “Scrapple from the Apple.” The syncopated melody has a great deal to do with its popularity as does the comfort of playing a two-five-one progression. The bridge is a series of major chords in the cycle of fourths and lends itself to motifs, which can be recycled in a key a fourth away.
Rick Leppanen, jazz bassist www.pearldjango.com
Chord-outline melody requiring some definite vocal agility: quasi coloratura. Chromatic melody in bridge provides good tension arc for breath maintenance. Excellent improvisation medium.
Marty Heresniak, Voice Teacher, Actor, Writer, Singer
Quoted from: Heresniak, Marty and Christopher Woitach, “Changing the Standards — Alternative Teaching Materials.” Journal of Singing, vol. 58, no. 1, Sep./Oct. 2001.
- “Honeysuckle Rose” was included in these films:
- Tin Pan Alley (1940, sung and danced by Betty Grable)
- As Thousands Cheer (1943, Lena Horne with Benny Carter and His Band)
- Walking My Baby Back Home (1953, Janet Leigh dubbed by Paula Kelly)
- New York, New York (1977, Diahnne Abbott)
- Honeysuckle Rose (1980, Willie Nelson)
- The Marrying Man (1991)
- Human Stain (2003) (Jess Stacy)
And on Broadway:
- Bubbling Brown Sugar (1976, Josephine Premise/Avon Long)
- Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Story of Fats Waller (1978, Ken Page/Nell Carter)
- Slow Drag (1997, Christopher Colquhon)