Born in Washington, D.C., the son of Henry Razafkeriefo, a Malagasy nobleman and Jennie (Waller) Razafkeriefo, the daughter of John L. Waller, the first African American consul to Madagascar, he was the nephew of Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar. Raised in Harlem, he collaborated with Fats Waller (his cousin on his mother's side of their family) and other Tin Pan Alley musicians, as well as Benny Goodman, Eubie Blake and others. He was a contributor and editor of the UNIA's Negro World newspaper.
"Baltimo", composed at the age of 17, was sung by members of "The Passing Show of 1913" at Winter Garden, New York.
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