Thomas Fats Waller was an American Jazz pianist and composer. His mother Adeline was a musician who taught and supported Thomas in his music. Sadly she died when he was a teenager. His father was the Reverend Edward Martin Waller, a trucker and pastor in New York City. Waller was one of eleven children, however only four of his siblings survived to adulthood. The Waller household was very religious and this was a large part of Thomas’s life. He played the organ at his father’s church at the age of ten. Waller’s father wanted his son to follow in his footsteps rather than follow music.
Career and Composions
In addition to his own compositions it is said that Waller produced many others selling them for small amounts to the credit of other composers and lyricists.
Waller had his first success in 1925 with “Squeeze Me” leading onto “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose,”, written with Clarence Williams.
Andy Razaf one of his friends and close collaborators described Waller as “the soul of melody…a man who made the piano sing…both big in body and in mind… known for his generosity… a bubbling bundle of joy”.
His fame and tours extended into Europe and he was the first African-American songwriter to compose a hit Broadway musical.
Waller started his recording association in 1926 with the Victor Talking Machine Company/RCA Victor. He experienced great successes as a soloist and part of various groups. However, his fame did put him in danger when he was kidnapped to play at the gangster Al Capone’s birthday party!
He married twice and and had three children.
Waller sadly died prematurely of pneumonia in 1943 aged just thirty nine. More than four thousand two hundred people attended his funeral.