"The Charleston" is a jazz composition that was written to accompany the Charleston dance. It was composed in 1923, with lyrics by Cecil Mack and music by James P. Johnson, who first introduced the stride piano method of playing. The song was featured in the American black Broadway musical comedy show Runnin' Wild, which had its premiere at the New Colonial Theatre in New York on October 29, 1923. The music of the dockworkers from South Carolina inspired Johnson to compose the music. The dance known as the Charleston came to characterize the times. Lyrics, though rarely sung (an exception is Chubby Checker's 1961 recording), were penned by Cecil Mack, himself one of the most accomplished songwriters of the early 1900s. The song's driving rhythm, basically the first bar of a 3 2 clave, came to have widespread use in jazz and is still referenced by name by musicians. Harmonically, the song features a five chord ragtime progression (I-VI7-II7-V7-I).
The song has been used in a number of films set in the 1920s. Ginger Rogers danced to the music in the film Roxie Hart (1942). In the movies Margie (1946) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946), the song was played during school dance scenes. In the movie Tea for Two (1950), with Doris Day and Gordon MacRae, the song was a featured production number. The song appears during the end credits of the 1981 film, The Evil Dead. A version performed by Enoch Light and the Charleston City All Stars has also been used in Woody Allen's 2011 film Midnight in Paris, which largely takes place in the 1920s. The track "Bang Bang" from the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, performed by Will.I.Am, uses this music coupled with (to a large part) the lyrics from Sonny Bono's song of the same title.