The song tells of disappointment, as the lyrics, "Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky", show someone pining for her man to return. The weather is a metaphor for the feelings of the singer: "stormy weather since my man and I ain't together, keeps raining all the time."
The original handwritten lyrics, along with a painting by Ted Koehler, were featured on the (US) Antiques Roadshow on 24 January 2011, where they were appraised for between $50,000 and $100,000. The lyrics show a number of crossings out and corrections.
Duke Ellington recorded an instrumental version of the song in 1933 and another version with singer Ivie Anderson in 1940. He also featured a vocal version with Ivy (aka Ivie) Anderson in his 1933 Paramount short film Bundle of Blues.
Lena Horne first recorded the song in 1941 for RCA Victor. In 1943, she recorded another version of Stormy Weather for the movie of the same name (which she made while on loan to 20th Century Fox from MGM). Horne recorded the song at least five times throughout her career. Horne's version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000. In 1984, this version of the song was made into a music video on D-TV, featuring clips from the Disney cartoon The Old Mill and the Pastoral Symphony scene from Fantasia.
Connee Boswell recorded the song for Decca on July 8, 1941 with Victor Young's Orchestra.
Kay Starr recorded the song in 1945. Backing Kay Starr (vocals) were the King Cole Trio — Nat King Cole (piano), Oscar Moore (guitar), John Kirby (bass) with assistance from Max Roach (drums), Bill Coleman (trumpet), Buster Bailey (clarinet), Benny Carter (alto saxophone, arranger) and Coleman Hawkins (tenor saxophone), Recorded at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, CA.
Olga Guillot recorded a Spanish-language version of the song.
Billie Holiday recorded a version of the song on July 27, 1952, in New-York. It was released on a 7-inch album with the B-side "Don't Explain", and has since been included on many anthologies.
In 1952, R&B group The Five Sharps recorded "Stormy Weather" for Jubilee Records, and test pressings were made. The master was later lost (either to fire or flood; sources vary), and only three extant original pressings (all on 78 RPM) are known to exist (although original 45 RPM issues on Jubilee are still, currently 56 years later , rumored to exist). In the 1960s, Jubilee released a rock-and-roll recording, by a different group, with label attribution to the Five Sharps; this version holds little interest to collectors. All known 45 RPM copies of the 1952 version bearing the Jubilee label (as well as a 1972 reissue on Bim Bam Boom records) have been bootlegged from one of the three known 78 copies (a cracked copy, whose crack is audible on all reissues). A version similar to the original Five Sharps recording was also recorded and released in the 1960s by a New York based group, the Five Sharks.
Judy Garland recorded a studio version of the song for her "London Sessions" with Capitol. Most notable is her live performance of the song recorded for the Grammy Award-winning album Judy At Carnegie Hall.
Django Reinhardt performed this song, and it can be found on the album Keep Cool: Guitar Solos (1950–1953).
In August 1958, the R&B doo-wop group The Spaniels recorded an uptempo jump styled version of the song.
Rest Assured recorded a cover of the song in 1993 to coincide with the song's 60th birthday although somewhat different from the original due to the use of samples and a rap. It was produced by Harry Sutcliffe.
In the first season of The Muppet Show, Wayne and Wanda (a recurring duet couple) tried to sing the song, but as with most of their attempts to perform, it ends with slapstick violence. Because copyright licensing was not available, however, the segment does not appear on the DVD release.
The radio program Marketplace uses "Stormy Weather" as background music when the major stock market indices are down for the day.
15 year-old Gitte Haenning recorded the song in 1961 on the Danish HMV Label (X 8439).
The German a cappella group (cf. Doo-Wop) Comedian Harmonists recorded their version of this song, "Ohne Dich", in German in Sep. 4, 1933 (Berlin). They further made a version in French language, "Quand il pleut", recorded Sep. 7, 1933 (Fechner, Eberhard (1988). Die Comedian Harmonists. Sechs Lebensläufe (in German). Weinheim: Quadriga. ISBN3-88679-174-2.).
The Chicago punk group, the Smoking Popes, recorded their version of this song, in 2001.
Michael Crawford recorded this song for his 1993 album A Touch of Music in the Night.
In around October/November 1960 it was recorded on the Candid LP "Mingus" with Charles Mingus on bass, Ted Curson on Trumpet, Danny Richmond on drums and Eric Dolphy on alto sax. It is an instrumental track.
Imelda May recorded a cover version in her album Jump Jack Jump when singing with Blue Harlem
The song is also referenced in the song "Frank Sinatra" by Cake. The following lyrics are found in the chorus: "While Frank Sinatra sings 'Stormy Weather,' the flies and spiders get along together; cobwebs fall on an old, skipping record."