By DON STINE
A simple, two-story house on Atkins Avenue on the West Side of Asbury Park played an important role in musical history and in the careers of two iconic American songwriters.
In 1928, well-known musicians Fats Waller and Andy Razaf wrote the song “Honeysuckle Rose” in the house- a song would be recorded more than 500 times by artists including Fats Waller, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman. Lena Horne, Nat King Cole and others.
“Waller and Razaf wrote hundreds of songs together,” said Charlie Horner, who discovered the house at 119 Atkins Ave. after years of research.
He and his wife, Pam, have just written “Springwood Avenue Harmony: The Unique Musical Legacy of Asbury Park’s West Side, Volume 1, 1871 – 1945 (Classic Urban Harmony Press, 2020). The Horners are well-known experts on doo wop, or vocal harmony, music.
“I had heard rumors passed down over the years that “Honeysuckle Rose” was written in Asbury Park but I did not know where. I was always trying to track it down but I could not find any reference to the Razaf family in city records. So, I figured that the mother had remarried,” he said
Finally, Horner said he saw a letter to the editor from her in an old 1950s newspaper, signed as “Jennie Coles.” Coles moved from Harlem into 119 Atkins Avenue soon after the building was built in 1927.
“After that, everything fell into place. Once I found out the name, I could locate the building,” Horner said.
Horner said Mrs. Cole ran a tea room on the ground floor and rented apartments on the second floor.
Horner said he learned that Razaf’s mother, who was a domestic worker, was a fabulous cook and Razaf knew he could never get Waller to work on some songs if he could not get him out of Harlen for a little bit
“So, he invited Waller to Asbury Park so he could focus and said his mother would cook for him. And that was enough to get him to come,” he said.
Waller and Razaf were working on songs for a new musical called “Load of Coal.” In a couple of days, they had finished two songs but “Honeysuckle Rose” remained only partially finished because Waller wanted to get back to Harlem and left.
That night Razaf worked on the final lyrics to the song. He wrote the lyrics and Waller composed the music.
“The next day he tracked Waller down at some bar in Harlem. He gave him the lyrics over the phone and Waller sat down at a piano in the bar and completed the final bars to the song,” Horner said.
A special plaque has been placed on the building and dedicated today (Wednesday, July 9) during a small, invitation-only ceremony. The building in now owned by the Bethel AME Church. The plaque is placed by the Asbury Park Historical Society, the Asbury Park Museum, and Springwood Avenue Rising.
Fats Waller went on to become one of the best-known entertainers of the 1930s and 1940s, while Andy Razaf went on to write lyrics for over a thousand more songs including “In The Mood,” “Stompin’ At The Savoy” and “Memories Of You.”