Apologies if this has been posted elsewhere. Drop me a note and I'll edit this post!The Frankie and Johnny story
By Gérard HERZHAFT
Unlike what is widely acknowledged, American Folk Songs are not always coming from folk traditions which would have been carried through space (from Europe to America) and generations. A lot of folk songs (and many many blues songs as well) come in fact directly from nineteenth century writing workshops like Thomas Harms' or Whitmark & Sons, situated in Manhattan, New York on the 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, an area that reporter Monroe Rosenfeld will call "Tin Pan Alley" because of the ceaseless noise generated by dozens of pianist composers who were working there. Thousands of songs poured over the years from those workshops to supply fresh songs to innumerable Vaudeville Theatres and their constant new shows. Very often, those songs had to deal with news items (crashes, murders, great performances, disasters...) that were widely known across the country but that no one had actually seen (no TV or smartphones at that time!)Frankie and Johnny
or Frankie and Johnnie
or Frankie and Albert
tells a true drama that occurred on 15 October 1899 at Saint Louis, 212 Target Street. This early evening, a young African-American woman Frankie Baker (1876-1952) took her gun and shot to death her very young (17!) lover Allen (better known as Albert) Britt because he had conspicuously cheated her with a one night dance queen Nelly Bly! During her trial, Frankie Baker and her very wise lawyer demonstrated that Frankie was in fact in self defence because Albert who had anyway a very bad reputation first tried to assault her with a knife! Against all odds, Frankie Baker was acquitted under the applauses of the audience and even of the jury!
Frankie Baker showing the place where she shot her lover in St. Louis (photo taken in 1935)
A few weeks after the trial, a local Vaudeville singer Bill Dooley composed a song, Frankie killed Allen which evolved quickly to become Frankie and Johnny, a song first copyrighted in 1904 by Tin Pan Alley's pro Hughie Cannon who added the famous chorus line "He done her wrong..." The enormous success of the song can be witnessed by the many versions copyrighted the following years, particularly Frank and Bert Leighton's 'Frankie and Johnny' from 1912 with the usual now well known lines and the appearance of Nelly Bly on the song. In 1925, 'Frankie and Johnny' is listed in Dorothy Scarborough's On the trail of Negro Folksongs
and in 1927 in The American Songbook
by Carl Sandburg who searched also previous possible versions of this theme.
'Frankie and Johnny' was/is a huge hit everywhere, becoming a standard recorded by several hundreds of performers, Blacks and Whites, in pop, jazz, blues, Country Music, Rock from the first recorded version 'Frankie and Johnny' in 1919 by Al Bernard to Elvis Presley
and Van Morrisson through Frank Crumit, Lead Belly, Yvonne De Carlo, Stevie Wonder, Mississippi John Hurt, Jimmie Rodgers, Dinah Shore, Burl Ives, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Big Bill Broonzy, Johnny Cash, Doc Watson, Charlie Patton, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Lonnie Donegan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and dozens others!
'Frankie and Johnny' has also generated several plays, novels, films like Her Man
(1930), Frankie and Johnny
(1936 with Helen Morgan), Frankie and Johnny (1966 with Elvis Presley)
until Frankie and Johnny
from 1991 with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. While the song itself was featured in dozens of movies, musicals, westerns or whatsoever! In 1930, the young and upcoming filmmaker John Huston created a puppet play Frankie and Johnny
based upon the interviews he made in Saint Louis with the real Frankie, Mrs Baker as well as Albert's childhood friend, Richard Clay!
As for Mrs Frankie Baker, after her trial, she stayed in the Saint Louis area where the murder had occurred. She witnessed unbelievingly for a long time the huge backwash of her story. She will try several times but with no results to get some parts of the enormous copyrights the songs, the films, the plays had generated. She will anyway be interviewed several times by local and national newspapers and radio stations and will even be part of a regular tour of Saint Louis where she was showing and explaining to visitors where, why and how the famous incident had occurred! As she was getting older, she left Saint Louis for Portland where she died in 1952.Source http://jukegh.blogspot.be/2017/09/the-f ... story.html
---Bonus: Covarrubias' illustrations from John Huston's Frankie and Johnny (1930)
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