In the year 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue

When Fats Waller sang “Mr Christopher Columbus/Sailed the sea without a compass” he probably didn’t know that the great admiral had acquired his navigational skills at a driving school in Sants, Barcelona (Colón = Columbus).

Lyricist Andy Razaf may well have despaired of Mr Waller, who seems more or less to have improvised his version of the text as he wibble-wobbled from studio to studio, but his own history is almost as strange as that of the hero of his song. Andream[en] tania Paul Razaf[in]keriefo was a child of emigrants who escaped Madagascar just as its extraordinarily bloody colonisation by the French began. The great nephew of Queen Ranavalona III (whose great grandmother(?) Harry Flashman apparently loved and left), he was born in Washington DC in 1895 and spent much of his life in Manhattan. It is attractive but probably naive to suppose that he was thinking of his own old world roots when he wrote:

Mr Christopher Columbus,
He used rhythm as a compass.
Music ended all the rumpus,
Wise old Christopher Columbus!

One of my favourite non-Waller versions of the song is that by Machito and his Afro-Cubans. This is one of a number of recordings:

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