Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald Swing “Mack the Knife,” Which is a Scary Song

Mack the Knife is a beloved jazz standard. Besides Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin are heavyweights who recorded it. Here is a fabulous version by Armstrong.

The song is from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. Weill’s wife, Lotte Lenya, sings it here in German.

The song simply is not very nice. Commentary before another video — which has been taken down, unfortunately — describes Berlin as a degenerate pit in which Nazism grew. Lenya leaves no doubt who this much-loved song really is about at the end.

Here are some lyrics from the song. Very pleasant stuff:

Jenny Towler
Poor wee Jenny,
There they found her
Knife in breast.

Mackie’s wandering
On the West Pier
Hoping only
For the best.

Mind that fire burnt
All through Soho.
Seven kids dead
One old flower.


And those sweet babes
Under sixteen
Story goes that
Black and blue

For the price of
One good screwing
Mackie, Mackie
How could you?

It goes on like that. It’s also unclear why the murderer, Macheath, is not German. I have no interest in seeing a production or reading it, so I guess I’ll never know.

At the end of the day, we have a song that is about murder and references Hitler. It’s beloved and sung by big stars. Actually, it’s a perfect pop classic for the 20th century.