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Fats Waller

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Fats Waller (Thomas Wright Waller, May 21, 1904 – December 15, 1943) was an American jazz pianist, organist, composer, singer, and comedic entertainer. His greatest success came with “Fats Waller & His Rhythm”.

Thomas Wright Waller was the youngest of four children, born in New York to Adeline Locket Waller and Reverend Edward Martin Waller. He started playing the piano when he was six and graduated to the organ of his father’s church four years later. At the age of fourteen he was playing the organ at Harlem’s Lincoln Theater and within twelve months he had composed his first rag. Waller’s first piano solos (“Muscle Shoals Blues” and “Birmingham Blues”) were recorded in October 1922 when he was 18 years old.
He was the prize pupil, and later friend and colleague, of stride pianist James P. Johnson. Fats Waller was the son of a preacher and learned to play the organ in church with his mother. Overcoming opposition from his clergyman father, Waller became a professional pianist at 15, working in cabarets and theaters. In 1918 he won a talent contest playing Johnson’s “Carolina Shout”, a song he learned from watching a player piano play it.

Waller was one of the most popular performers of his era, finding critical and commercial success in his homeland and in Europe. He was also a prolific songwriter and many songs he wrote or co-wrote are still popular, such as “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Squeeze Me”. Fellow pianist and composer Oscar Levant dubbed Waller “the black Horowitz”.

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