Charleston (song)

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"Charleston" rhythm,[1] commonly used in comping.[2]

"The Charleston" is a jazz composition that was written to accompany the Charleston dance. It was composed in 1923, with lyrics by Cecil Mack and music by James P. Johnson, who first introduced the stride piano method of playing. The song was featured in the American black Broadway musical comedy show Runnin' Wild, which had its premiere at the New Colonial Theatre in New York on October 29, 1923.[3] The music of the dockworkers from South Carolina inspired Johnson to compose the music. The dance known as the Charleston came to characterize the times. Lyrics, though rarely sung (an exception is Chubby Checker's 1961 recording), were penned by Cecil Mack, himself one of the most accomplished songwriters of the early 1900s. The song's driving rhythm, basically the first bar of a 3 2 clave, came to have widespread use in jazz and is still referenced by name by musicians. Harmonically, the song features a five chord ragtime progression (I-VI7-II7-V7-I).[4]

In the 1946 Christmas movie It's a Wonderful Life with James Stewart and Donna Reed, the song was played during the school dance scene.[5] In the movie Tea for Two (1950), with Doris Day and Gordon MacRae, the song was a featured production number.[5][6] The track "Bang Bang" from the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, performed by Will.I.Am, uses this music coupled with (to a large part) the lyrics from Sonny Bono's song of the same title.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sharp, Duke (2006). Garage Band Theory, p.305. ISBN 9780976642008.
  2. ^ Hughes, Fred (2002). The Jazz Pianist: Left Hand Voicings and Chord Theory, p.6. ISBN 9780757993152.
  3. ^ Runnin' Wild
  4. ^ Weissman, Dick (2001). Songwriting: The Words, the Music and the Money, p.59. ISBN 9780634011603. and Weissman, Dick (1085). Basic Chord Progressions: Handy Guide, p.28. ISBN 9780882844008.
  5. ^ a b Studwell, William Emmett (1994). The Popular Song Reader: A Sampler of Well-Known Twentieth-Century Songs. Routledge. p. 117. ISBN 1-56024-369-4. 
  6. ^ The New York Times: Tea for Two (1950)