That Old Black Magic – 1961


Song Author: Harold Arlen music, Johnny Mercer lyrics

Year Recorded: 1961


That Old Black Magic

“That Old Black Magic” is a popular song. The music was written by Harold Arlen, with the lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

The song was published in 1942 and has become an often-recorded standard with versions that include the original single release by Glenn Miller, 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. 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.


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. The release was Glenn Miller’s last #1 hit. It charted in 1943, spending 14 weeks on the Billboard magazine charts, peaking at position #1 for the week of May 29.

The song was sung in the 1942 Paramount Pictures musical comedy film Star Spangled Rhythm by Johnny Johnston.

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 1 week at #10 on the Billboard chart.

Ella Fitzgerald recorded this on her 1961 Verve double-album “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook”.

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 thirty-fifth President of the United States.

Bing Crosby sang the song in an extraordinarily slow classic crooner style in the 1944 WWII era movie Here Come the Waves.

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 6 weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at position #16. Sammy Davis, Jr. performs “That Old Black Magic” during a guest appearance on the television series I Dream of Jeannie.

Marilyn Monroe famously sang the song in her film Bus Stop, in 1956. Her character Cheree 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 Mister 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 eighteen on the Billboard Hot 100.

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 twenty-one on the Hot 100.

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

The tune was featured as background music in the movie, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Jaye P. Morgan guest starred on The Muppet Show (episode 2.18) 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 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 released on her album, Volare, released in 2009 by Big Fish Records.

The Uptown Band ft. Erich Cawalla & 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.

Recorded versions

Larry Adler
Ashley Alexander
Ray Anthony
Harold Arlen
Charlie Barnet (Decca 18541)
Tony Bennett
Earl Bostic
Les Brown
Dave Brubeck
Cab Calloway
Rosemary Clooney
Holly Cole
Ray Conniff
Chris Connor
Bing Crosby
Billy Daniels
James Darren
Miles Davis
Sammy Davis Jr.
Doris Day
Buddy DeFranco
Jula de Palma
Tommy Dorsey
Bob Dylan
Ray Eberle and his Orchestra
Billy Eckstine with the Billy May Orchestra
Percy Faith
Ella Fitzgerald
Judy Garland
Erroll Garner
Carroll Gibbons
Dizzy Gillespie
Stéphane Grappelli
Lionel Hampton
Johnny Hartman
Dick Haymes
Shirley Horn
Spike Jones and his City Slickers
Stan Kenton
Peggy Lee
Jerry Lewis
Henry Mancini and his Orchestra
The Marcels
Deana Martin
Tony Martin
Johnny Mathis
Carmen McRae
Johnny Mercer
Glenn Miller and his Orchestra
Marilyn Monroe (in the movie Bus Stop)
Marion Montgomery
Van Morrison
The Muppets (Sam and Friends, The Muppet Show)
Oscar Peterson
The Platters
André Prévin
Louis Prima
Red Norvo Quintet
Lita Roza
Bobby Rydell
Allan Sherman
Janis Siegel
Frank Sinatra
Keely Smith
The Softones
Kevin Spacey
Rod Stewart
Toni Tennille
Mel Tormé
Caterina Valente
Sarah Vaughan
Margaret Whiting
Widespread Panic (live)
Robbie Williams
Tom Jones
Ray Davies
Jamie Cullum
Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
Bob Dylan