Charleston (song)

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The Charleston
Dance tune by James P. Johnson
Charleston rhythm.png
"Charleston" rhythm[1]
StyleStride piano
Textby Cecil Mack
DateOctober 29, 1923 (1923-10-29)
LocationNew Colonial Theatre, New York

"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.[2][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 comping and musicians still reference it by name.[4] Harmonically, the song features a five-chord ragtime progression (I-III7-VI7-II7-V7-I).[5]

The Charleston entered the public domain in the United States in 2019.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

The song has been used in a number of films set in the 1920s. Ginger Rogers dances to the music in the film Roxie Hart (1942).[7] In the movies Margie (1946) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946), the song is played during school dance scenes.[8] In the movie Tea for Two (1950), with Doris Day and Gordon MacRae, the song is a featured production number.[8][9] The song appears during the end credits of the 1981 film The Evil Dead and in the segment "They're Creeping Up on You" in the 1982 film Creepshow. A version performed by Enoch Light and the Charleston City All Stars is used in Woody Allen's 2011 film Midnight in Paris, which largely takes place in the 1920s.[10] The track "Bang Bang" from the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, performed by Will.I.Am, samples the song.[11]

One of the most famous recordings of the song was by The Golden Gate Orchestra in 1925, which has been inducted into the National Recording Registry.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sharp, Duke (2006). Garage Band Theory, p.305. ISBN 9780976642008.
  2. ^ Runnin' Wild
  3. ^ "Charleston | dance". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-02-01.
  4. ^ Hughes, Fred (2002). The Jazz Pianist: Left Hand Voicings and Chord Theory, p.6. ISBN 9780757993152.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Douglas, Nick (April 13, 2018). "These 1923 Copyrighted Works Enter the Public Domain in 2019". Life Hacker. Retrieved September 5, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b Studwell, William Emmett (1994). The Popular Song Reader: A Sampler of Well-Known Twentieth-Century Songs. Routledge. p. 117. ISBN 978-1-56024-369-4.
  9. ^ The New York Times: Tea for Two (1950)
  10. ^ "Midnight in Paris - Original Soundtrack Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 9 March 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Jones, Lucy (3 May 2013). "'The Great Gatsby' Soundtrack - First Listen, Track-By-Track". NME. Retrieved 9 March 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ Rawlins, Robert. "Charleston --The Golden Gate Orchestra" (PDF). Library Of Congress.