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That Old Black Magic

"That Old Black Magic" is a 1942 popular song written by Harold Arlen (music), with the lyrics by Johnny Mercer.[1]. They wrote it for the 1942 film Star Spangled Rhythm, when it was sung by Johnny Johnston and danced by Vera Zorina.[2] The song was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1943 but lost out to "You'll Never Know".

"That Old Black Magic"
That Old Black Magic Glenn Miller RCA.JPG
78 single
Single by Glenn Miller
B-side"A Pink Cocktail For a Blue Lady"
RecordedJuly 15, 1942
GenreSwing, jazz, popular
LabelRCA Victor
Songwriter(s)Harold Arlen (music), Johnny Mercer (lyrics)

It was first recorded by Gordon Jenkins and his Orchestra on July 9, 1942, and was released as a single by Judy Garland in January 1943 – in advance of the movie's release. Five other recordings (also made in 1942) followed within the next two weeks.[3]


The song was published in 1942 and has become an often-recorded standard, with versions that include the original single release by Glenn Miller, by the singers Margaret Whiting, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Mercer himself, and others. Mercer wrote the lyrics with Judy Garland in mind, who was, on occasion, an intimate partner.[4] Garland recorded the song for Decca Records in 1942. Mercer recalled wanting to write a song about magic, and while composing, asking Arlen to write more music so the song could go on longer, but that they still wrote the whole song in about three hours.[1]


The Glenn Miller recording was released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-1523-A, with "A Pink Cocktail For a Blue Lady" as the B side. The vocals were by Skip Nelson and the Modernaires. Glenn Miller recorded the song on July 15, 1942.[5] The release was Glenn Miller's last number-1 hit. It charted in 1943, spending 14 weeks on the Billboard magazine charts, peaking at position number 1 for the week of May 29.[6][7]

The Margaret Whiting recording (with the Freddie Slack Orchestra, which got top billing on the label) was released by Capitol Records as catalog number 126. It charted in 1943, spending a week at number 10 on the Billboard chart.[6]

Ella Fitzgerald recorded this on her Verve double-album, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook (1961).

Frank Sinatra recorded the song twice: once as a ballad for Columbia, and again in 1961 in a lightly swinging arrangement for Capitol (featured on Come Swing with Me!). Sinatra also sang a slightly altered version of the song, titled "That Old Jack Magic" at the inaugural gala he held for John F. Kennedy the night before Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States.

Bing Crosby sang the song in an extraordinarily slow classic crooner style in the World War II- era film Here Come the Waves (1944).

A 1950 recording on Mercury Records by Billy Daniels gave him the moniker "The Old Black Magic Man" for the rest of his career.

The Sammy Davis Jr. recording was released by Decca Records as catalog number 29541. It charted in 1955 and spent six weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at position number 16.[6] Sammy Davis Jr. performs "That Old Black Magic" during a guest appearance on the television series I Dream of Jeannie and Tonight With Steve Allen in 1955.

Marilyn Monroe famously sang the song in her film Bus Stop (1956). Her character Chérie is singing the song (somewhat out of key) to an audience who is not listening and talking loudly, until Don Murray quiets them all down.

In 1963, Jerry Lewis also sang his unforgettable version as suave hipster Buddy Love in his film The Nutty Professor.

The duet recorded by Louis Prima and Keely Smith was released as a single in 1958 on the Capitol label. It reached a peak of 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. This particular version was performed on Sam and Friends by Sam and Kermit the Frog, Sam performing as Prima and Kermit dressing in drag and performing as Smith. This sequence became one of the most well-known episodes of Sam and Friends.

In 1984, the duet version was made into a music video, set to footage of classic Disney animation, on D-TV (a parody of MTV), which ran on The Disney Channel for many years. Cartoon footage included Magician Mickey and the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of the 1940 film Fantasia. This video was also featured on the D-TV compilation home video D-TV Golden Oldies.

The said duet version was rearranged and used as background music in the swimsuit competition in the semifinals of the Miss Universe 1996 beauty pageant held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Bobby Rydell had his version released as a single on Cameo in 1961. It reached number 21 on the Hot 100.

Johnny Mercer recorded his version for his album My Huckleberry Friend (1974).

The tune was featured as background music in the sequel Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).

Jaye P. Morgan guest starred on The Muppet Show (episode 2.18)[8] in which she and Dr. Teeth sang "That Old Black Magic."

As part of his album My Name is Allan, Allan Sherman sang a parody of this song called "That Old Back Scratcher".

It was featured twice on Star Trek: Voyager. It was sung by Seven of Nine during a simulation of World War II on the first part of the episode "The Killing Game". The second time, it was performed by The Doctor and Harry Kim and his jazz band called "Harry Kim and the Kimtones" in the episode "Virtuoso". A recording by Judy Garland featured in the film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005). The music of the song appears in the drama film All About Eve (1950).

In 1992, it was recorded by Nancy LaMott on her album Come Rain or Come Shine. She turned it into a torch song, a change from the swing arrangements that Sinatra and others employed. Jonathan Schwartz, the New York DJ and son of composer Arthur Schwartz, often states that the song never appealed to him — just Arlen and Mercer "hokem" — until he heard LaMott's version.

Deana Martin recorded "That Old Black Magic" in 2009. The song was on her album Volare, released in 2009 by Big Fish Records.

The Uptown Band, featuring Erich Cawalla and Jenifer Kinder, recorded the song in 2014 and it appears on their sophomore album Heart, Soul, Body, & Mind. Their version features special guest Will Lee, bassist with the CBS Orchestra on the Late Show with David Letterman.


  1. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1994). Pop Chronicles the 40s: The Lively Story of Pop Music in the 40s (audiobook). ISBN 978-1-55935-147-8. OCLC 31611854. Tape 1, side A.
  2. ^ Motion Picture Production Encyclopedia, 1952, p. 789. Best Original Song: "Black Magic," from Star Spangled Rhythm, Paramount.
  3. ^ Billboard, December 5, 1942; Billboard, January 23, 1943; Billboard, January 30, 1943; Billboard, February 6, 1943.
  4. ^ Glenn T. Eskew (November 15, 2013). Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World. University of Georgia Press. p. 161.
  5. ^ "That Old Black Magic". Second Hand Songs.
  6. ^ a b c Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940-1955. Record Research.
  7. ^ Song artist 6 - Glenn
  8. ^ Garlen, Jennifer C.; Graham, Anissa M. (2009). Kermit Culture: Critical Perspectives on Jim Henson's Muppets. McFarland & Company. p. 218. ISBN 078644259X.