First performed by Charles Walters & June Knight from Jubilee (1935).
First commercial release by Xavier Cugat & His Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra (1935).
Hit version by The Artie Shaw Orchestra (US #3 1938).
Also recorded by Josephine Baker (1936), Eddie Heywood (1944)
From the wiki: “‘Begin the Beguine’ is a song written by Cole Porter, who first witnessed the beguine as a dance in Paris. He later composed the song during a 1935 Pacific cruise aboard Cunard’s ocean liner Franconia. The song was first introduced by June Knight in the Broadway musical Jubilee, produced at the Imperial Theatre in New York City in October 1935. Knight and Charles Walters would later release a recorded version for the Victor Records label.
“At first, the song gained little popularity, perhaps because of its length and unconventional form. Josephine Baker danced to it in her return to America in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, but neither she nor the song were successful. Two years later, however, bandleader Artie Shaw recorded an arrangement of the song, an extended swing orchestra version. Shaw chose ‘Beguine’ to be the first of six tunes he would record at his initial recording session for RCA Victor. RCA’s pessimism with the whole idea of recording the long tune ‘that nobody could remember from beginning to end anyway’ resulted in it being released on the B-side of the record ‘Indian Love Call’, issued by Bluebird Records. But, Shaw’s persistence paid off, though, when ‘Begin the Beguine’ became a best-selling record in 1938, peaking at #3. Shaw’s recording became one of the most famous and popular anthems of the entire Swing Era.
“A Beguine was originally a Christian lay woman of the 13th or 14th century living in a religious community without formal vows. In the creole of the Caribbean, especially in Martinique and Guadeloupe, the term came to mean ‘white woman’, and then to be applied to a style of music and dance, and in particular a slow, close couples’ dance. This combination of French ballroom dance and Latin folk dance became popular in Paris and was spread further abroad in the 1940s largely due to the influence of the Porter song. Musicologist and composer Alec Wilder described it in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950 as ‘a maverick, an unprecedented experiment and one which, to this day, after hearing it hundreds of times, I cannot sing or whistle or play from start to finish without the printed music … about the sixtieth measure I find myself muttering another title, ‘End the Beguine’.'”
Josephine Baker, “Begin the Beguine” (1936):
The Artie Shaw Orchestra, “Begin the Beguine” (1938):
Eddie Heywood, “Begin the Beguine” (1944):