Sep 162022
 

One Great Cover looks at the greatest cover songs ever, and how they got to be that way.

Puttin On The Ritz

If you’re blue, and you don’t know where to go to
Why don’t you go where Harlem flits?
Puttin’ on the Ritz

Spangled gowns upon the bevy of high browns
From down the levy, all misfits
Putting’ on the Ritz

That’s where each and every lulubelle goes
Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus
Rubbin’ elbows

Come with me and we’ll attend their jubilee
And see them spend their last two bits
Puttin’ on the Ritz

When Irving Berlin wrote those lyrics in 1927, he was writing about the fad of the day, where poor black people would get dressed to the nines and parade up and down Harlem’s Lenox Avenue (which today is also known as Malcolm X Boulevard). Berlin used the word “lulubelle,” which was a slang term for a black maid, and Thursday was traditionally the maid’s day off. It was a gentle satire with a remarkably intricate rhythm, and while it didn’t coin the phrase “putting on the Ritz,” it certainly did popularize it.

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