On July 9, 2020, The Asbury Park Museum and Asbury Park Historical Society in cooperation with Springwood Avenue Rising and the Bethel AME Church dedicated a plaque at the Asbury Park house where Fats Waller & Andy Razaf wrote the song “Honeysuckle Rose” in December, 1928. “Honeysuckle Rose,” the song that launched the careers of songwriting legends Waller & Razaf would go on to be recorded by more than 500 artists from Count Basie to Lena Horne and Nat Cole.
Contracted to write 4 songs for the musical “Load of Coal,” Andy Razaf knew he had to get Fats Waller away from the Harlem night scene if they’d ever get the songs written in time. In the now legendary story, Razaf suggested they write the songs at Razaf’s mother’s home in Asbury Park. Though Waller didn’t want to leave Harlem, he was tempted by the thought of Razaf’s mother’s cooking, which she was known for. Razaf rented a piano and had it delivered to the house. The two finished off the first three songs quickly but couldn’t quite finish the final few lines of the last song, “Honeysuckle Rose.” Andy wanted to keep at it until completion, but Fats grabbed some food and headed for the train station on his trip back to Harlem. Razaf finished the lyrics and tracked Waller down by phone at a Harlem bar and the two finished the song. To watch a video of Fats Waller playing “Honeysuckle Rose” scroll down to the bottom.
It has now been more than 90 years since that historic day and Asbury Park Museum trustees Charlie & Pamela Horner have finally identified Andy Razaf’s mother’s home as 119 Atkins Avenue on the West Side of Asbury Park, NJ. It’s still standing, now in use as a food pantry and clothing distribution center (the Ford Center) by the Bethel AME Church.
So, on July 9, 2020, the Asbury Park Museum and Asbury Park Historical Society installed a plaque above the door leading up to the second-floor apartment where Andy Razaf’s mother lived. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions the ceremony was not opened to the public but was attended by a small group of invitees and of course, the press. Everyone wore masks and tried to social distance.
In the photos here, we’ll take you up the narrow stairs into the apartment where Jennie Razaf Coles lived in 1928. We quickly concluded that bringing a rented piano up those stairs would have been unlikely. We firmly believe “Honeysuckle Rose” was written in the downstairs Tea Room.
Following the tour of the building, APM president Kay Harris welcomed the small audience and Charlie Horner gave a short speech on the history of the building. Rev. Hunter of the Bethel AME Church unveiled the plaque and Khadijah Mohammed gave a great vocal rendition of the song. Also taking part in the ceremony were representatives from Springwood Avenue Rising and the Asbury Park African American Music Project.
Watch a video of Fats Waller performing “Honeysuckle Rose” below.