This lively foxtrot was written by vaudeville performers Noble Sissle (lyrics) and Eubie Blake (music) for the 1921 musical comedy Shuffle Along. A groundbreaking production, it was the first successful Broadway show written and performed entirely by African Americans. The most popular number was "I'm Just Wild About Harry," a tune that revels in the excitement of falling in love. In the play, Jessie (Lottie Gee) sings it to bolster support for her beau, Harry, whose popularity is flagging in a mayoral race. The song broke a long-held stage taboo against portraying romantic relationships between African Americans.
Lottie Gee, Blake's longtime girlfriend and the star of Shuffle Along, convinced Blake to revamp his original Viennese waltz as an up-tempo one-step. "That cut me to the quick," he recalled in the book America's Songs by Philip George Furia. "She was going to destroy my beautiful melody. I loved that waltz. Then Sissle went along with her… 'All right,' I said, 'we'll make it a one-step.'"
Initially, it didn't go over well with audiences and the composer nearly cut the number entirely from the show. But in a twist of fate, one of the chorus boys became ill and his understudy, not knowing the steps, improvised a routine that stole the show. Sissle remembered: "He dropped out of line and with a jive smile and a high-stepping routine of his own, he stopped the show cold."
Sissle and Blake recorded their own versions of the songs from Shuffle Along. For "I'm Just Wild About Harry," Sissle takes the lead with vocalist Ruth Williams while Blake plays the piano. Sissle also recorded a version in 1937 with clarinetist Sidney Bechet.
This became popular with film audiences when Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney performed it in the 1939 movie Babes In Arms. That same year, Garland recorded it as the B-side to her single "Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart." Also in 1939, it was used in the James Cagney gangster flick The Roaring Twenties (sung by Priscilla Lane in a nightclub scene), and it showed up in Rose Of Washington Square (sung by Alice Faye with Louis Prima's band).
This found a new audience when Harry S. Truman used it as his campaign song for the US presidency in 1948. Lots of folks were wild about Harry - the Democratic nominee defeated Republican governor Thomas E. Dewey. With its renewed popularity, the song was used in the film Jolson Sings Again the following year. Jolson's rendition, which is lip-synched by Larry Parks in the movie, solidified the tune as a jazz standard.
This was also recorded by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Tammy Grimes, and Jimmy Dorsey (with Spike Hughes & His Three Blind Mice), among others.
Indie-pop singer Morgxn for the romantic comedy The Thing About Harry (2020).
This was used in these movies:
Harry and the Hendersons (1987)
My Girl (1991)
Wild About Harry (2000)
The Cat's Meow (2001)
The Chaperone (2018)
And in these TV shows:
Growing Pains ("Jason Sings The Blues" - 1991): Jason Seaver (Alan Thicke) sings it as "I'm Just Wild About Alfie."
Downton Abbey ("Episode #4.6" - 2013): Jack Ross (Gary Carr) sings it at Robert's birthday party.