Thomas Wright Waller was born in New York City on May 21, 1904, the seventh of 11 children. His father, Edward, had a successful trucking business and his mother Adeline was a pianist; both came from Virginia. Census records show they married in 1890.
Thomas, known as “Fats” on the street because of his size, was a musical prodigy. By age 6 he could play piano, and soon expanded to harmonica, pipe organ and violin. He could duplicate movements just through observation, and was recording music by age 18.
He soon added composer to his resume and became a prolific and ultimately legendary one, also writing for Broadway and even other jazz artists.
In 1938, he challenged the racially restrictive covenants in the exclusive, upscale neighborhood of Addisleigh Park in St. Albans. He purchased 173-19 Sayres Ave. from Chas Bearchell, an adjutant in The Salvation Army. This opened up the gates for other entertainers like Count Basie, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane to purchase homes in the community.
Waller died in December 1943 at age 39, due to pneumonia. His ashes were released and scattered by airplane over Harlem. His home’s exterior remains in its original condition today with very little alteration.