I sing “My Satin Doll” as “My Latin Doll”— and I’ll tell you why.

(Anyone who wants to skip to the singing can jump to 2:30.)

You may have heard the jazz standard “My Satin Doll” written by Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, and Billy Strayhorn. Well, I learned that song when I was in high school and I attended the Fullerton Jazz Festival music contest— singing contest. It was adjudicated, and we got to go up there are do our stuff and get some feedback from the adjudicators. Well, I remember when I learned that song it just struck me as a little odd, like why would you call her your satin doll, and why would she speak Latin?

Well, a few years went by, and I learned a little bit more about the Jazz Age, and Harlem, and the different people that hung out there, and some of the lingo. And it really struck me that maybe the song was originally written “My Latin Doll.” Meaning, like, my “Latina” doll. Because if you think about the lyrics, there’s all kinds of Spanish in there, like “careful amigo, you’re flippin’” and, uh… “doin’ my rhumbas with uno.” So there’s at least three “Latin”—Spanish—words in there. And think about it— who “speaks” Latin, anyway? I mean, maybe people read Latin, or they can write Latin (or sing or recite Latin), but Latin’s a dead language. Nobody really “speaks” Latin. And even if there are some academicians that meet at, like, some special conference once a year and maybe they speak a little Latin with each other? Eh, I’m not buyin’ it. I don’t see how that’s a sexy thing, that “I’m going out with this girl who speaks Latin.” Okay?

So, at the risk of questioning the lyrics of the great songwriters, I just want to sing it the way it makes sense to me. Think about it. I would love to hear your comments, and I would love it if anyone knew any historical facts about this song and if there were some way to know what the intention was originally. ‘Cause I’m wondering if there was a little political correctness going on where they had to change it from what it originally was.

Anyway, here’s the way it makes sense to me:

Cigarette holder
Which wigs me
Over her shoulder
She digs me
Out cattin’ that Latin doll

Baby shall we go
Out skippin’?
Careful amigo, you’re flippin’
Wears satin, that Latin doll

She’s nobody’s fool so I’m playing it cool as can be
I’ll give it a whirl but I ain’t for no girl catching me


Telephone numbers
Well you know
Doing my rhumbas
With uno
And that’n my Latin doll
And that’n my Latin doll
Wears satin, my Latin doll






4 responses to “I sing “My Satin Doll” as “My Latin Doll”— and I’ll tell you why.”

  1. Chris Ring Avatar
    Chris Ring

    Hi – being older, I thought I’d share what I know, and offer my opinions.

    It’s said that Duke Ellington wrote the music (with Billy Strayhorn) with his longtime side girlfriend in mind, but it was Johnny Mercer who wrote the lyrics, which we can suppose met with Duke’s approval.

    Back in that day, a doll was a lady, and a satin doll was a lady who liked nicer, more luxurious things (as in, she’d sooner wear satin than cotton – plus the cigarette holder). This particular satin doll from Harlem enjoys her air of mystery, and being well-experienced enough to be confident and use that confidence. (Plays hard to get, but will charm him with some Spanish (Latin) and get him pursuing her.)

    [Back in the 1950’s and before, Latin was taught in school and university, so it’s possible she, being educated, may have whispered a few phrases to him (remember the movie, “Tombstone?”) to arouse his curiosity – but since those aren’t mentioned, I’m with you in supposing that the male narrator is simply impressed and beguiled by her, “Careful, amigo… You’re flippin’…”]

    He enjoys her flirting, and will take her out (or take her home), but in the end, he’s a devotedly single man who won’t commit to her.

    What a song! Thanks for letting me share.


    1. Daniel Greene Avatar

      Thank you for commenting! I enjoy learning about other people’s perspectives and knowledge.


  2. pia Avatar

    So, I think that Latin as Latina sounds great. And I do believe it makes sense that the song will be “speaks Latin, that Satin doll”, as many native english speakers consider Spanish to be sexier than French… what do you think?


    1. Daniel Greene Avatar

      Back then, I don’t think non-hispanic people used the word Latina; in fact, I’m not even sure if hispanic people used the word Latina. But people did use the word Latin (think “Latin lover” or “Latin dancing”), so I think he would call his hispanic girlfriend his Latin Doll (think “Guys and Dolls” for the use of the word “doll” for woman).

      As for Spanish being sexier than French, I don’t know about that. Look at fashion and cosmetics, and you see a lot of French. Look at cars, and you do see Spanish in the names of cars like Durango, El Camino, El Dorado, Torino, Pinto, Vega, Santa Fe, Maxima, Volare, etc. But the Spanish words seem to have a masculine connotation whereas the French words are seen as feminine. If femininity is associate with French and masculinity with Spanish, then it would make more sense that wearing satin would be more appealing on a woman than speaking “Latin” (even if you argue that Latin in this case means Spanish, which I think is a hard argument to make).

      Do you think Spanish is sexier than French? Do you speak both?


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