Name at birth: Thomas Wright Waller
Fats Waller played stride piano and pipe organ, and his rollicking songs made him one of America's most famous early jazz composers. Fats Waller began his career making player piano rolls in the 1920s. He accompanied singers (including Bessie Smith) on the vaudeville stage, and then wrote hit songs such as "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Honeysuckle Rose." Waller's high-energy tunes and funny, almost-naughty lyrics made him a popular star, and his output was tremendous. Fats Waller had a reputation for wild living, and it eventually caught up to him: he developed pneumonia and died on a train near Kansas City at the age of 39. His tunes were gathered into a musical review, Ain't Misbehavin', which opened on Broadway in 1978 and ran for nearly four years.