Mr. Bojangles

Album: Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy (1970)
Charted: 9
Play Video


  • "Mr. Bojangles" was the nickname used by Bill Robinson, a Black tap dancer who appeared in many movies in the 1930s, including with Shirley Temple in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. After Robinson's success, many Black street dancers became known as "Bojangles."
  • This was written and originally released by the singer/songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, who wrote the song in the mid-'60s and recorded it in 1968. Walker left his home in upstate New York and traveled the country playing music. He spent some time in New Orleans, where one day he was a bit tipsy and made a public display trying to convince a young lady that love at first sight was real. This landed him in jail, where his cell mate was an older man who made a living as a street dancer. He told Walker all about his life.

    In his book Gypsy Songman, Walker tells the story: "One of the guys in the cell jumped up and said, 'Come on, Bojangles. Give us a little dance.' 'Bojangles' wasn't so much a name as a category of itinerant street entertainer known back as far as the previous century. The old man said, 'Yes, Hell yes.' He jumped up, and started clapping a rhythm, and he began to dance. I spent much of that long holiday weekend talking to the old man, hearing about the tough blows life had dealt him, telling him my own dreams."

    Walker moved on to Texas, where he sat down to write: "And here it came, just sort of tumbling out, one straight shot down the length of that yellow pad. On a night when the rest of the country was listening to The Beatles, I was writing a 6/8 waltz about an old man and hope. It was a love song. In a lot of ways, Mr. Bojangles is a composite. He's a little bit of several people I met for only moments of a passing life. He's all those I met once and will never see again and will never forget."
  • Walker wrote another verse to the song, but didn't perform it because he couldn't fit it all in. This verse was about the three wives the man in jail told him about.
  • The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band version starts with a spoken intro called "Uncle Charlie And His Dog Teddy."
  • Some of the many artists to record this song include Bob Dylan, Harry Nilsson, John Denver, Nina Simone, Sammy Davis Jr. and Neil Diamond.
  • Jerry Jeff Walker told American Songwriter Magazine May/June 1988 that the success of this showed that songs needn't conform to rules. He explained: "'Bojangles' broke all the rules. It was too long, was 6/9 time, about an old drunk and a dead dog. They had so many reasons why it didn't fit anything. It would have never been a song if I had been living in Nashville and tried to take it through there. I recorded it in New York. I've always had my record deals through New York or L.A."
  • According to Jerry Jeff Walker's confrere Todd Snider, Jerry Jeff was known for a time as "Mr. Blowjangles" because of his raging cocaine habit. Todd quotes Jerry Jeff as saying: "A line of cocaine will make a new man out of you - and he'll want some too."
  • Because of the Bill Robinson association many listeners envision Mr. Bojangles as a Black man, but in an interview with NPR, Jerry Jeff Walker said the drunk dancer in the New Orleans jail who inspired the song was white - at the time, the jail was segregated by race. In the song, Bojangles danced at minstrel shows, which for the most part were white performers in blackface.

Comments: 21

  • Birdman_euston from London, UkRespect to the cover artists but I prefer the 'first-hand' poignancy of the original songwriter's recording. Jerry Jeff may have "up and died" in 2020 but his words and music live on.

    (Note to webpage editor: This song should be added to the Songfacts category "Songs about buskers or street musicians".)
  • Seventh Mist from 7th HeavenRIP, Jerry Jeff Walker. (March 16, 1942 – October 23, 2020)
  • Baz From Bama from AlabamaCould you imagine having to be bojangles? Could you imagine being black in america.. no respect for your personhood and no time for licking wounds... no imagined slights.. just the cold hard truth that your value is only in how entertained you could make a white man. And as you recount your hearts biggest pains someone tells you to dance.
  • Radioman970 from GeorgiaSeventhmist from 7th Heaven, "I always wondered by poor Mister B didn't just get another dog." That would be a new dog but it wouldn't wash away the experiences he had with beloved Teddy. Doesn't work that way once you bond with your furry friend.
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenI always wondered by poor Mister B didn't just get another dog.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhOne point the song makes is how a well executed set of dance steps, even in the humbling space of a jail cell, takes your mind off your troubles. (Mr.) Bojangles was respected for his skills. And people never tired off the dancing. I love how the last word of the song says it all: “Dance.”
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn September 9, 1970, Neil Diamond performed "Mr. Bojangles" on the ABC-TV musical variety program 'The Everly Brothers Show'...
    His covered version was track two of side one on his fifth studio album, 'Touching You, Touching Me', the album reached #30 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart...
    Interestingly, on the day of his appearance on the 'Everly' show he had two records on Billboard's Top 100 chart, and they were one position apart; at #21 was "Solitary Man", and one position lower at #22 was "Cracklin' Rosie"...
    Between 1966 and 1988 he had fifty-seven Top 100 records; thirteen made the Top 10 with three reaching #1, "Crackin' Rosie" for 1 week in 1970, "Song Sung Blue" for 1 week in 1972, and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", with Barbra Streisand, for 1 week in 1978...
    He just missed having a fourth #1 record when "Love On the Rocks" peaked at #2* {for 3 weeks} in 1981...
    Plus he almost had three more records make the Top 10 when "Play Me", "If You Know What I Mean", and "Yesterday's Songs" all peaked at #11...
    Neil Leslie Diamond will celebrate his 77th birthday this coming January 24th {2018}...
    * The three weeks that "Love On the Rocks" was at #2, the #1 record for those three weeks was "(Just Like) Starting Over" by John Lennon.
  • Dan from Newton, KansasThe early, EARLY 70's was so magical in terms of well-written songs. To be honest, I was getting a little tired of the 'constantly-trying-to-reinvent-themselves' Beatles. So many different musical movements & genres came out at that time. Nitty Gritty was so good at mixing bluegrass, new grass, country, rock, blues - not only on individual songs, but on the albums as a whole.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 28th 1971, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performed "Mr. Bojangles" on the CBS-TV program 'The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour'...
    The day before on March 27th, 1971 was its last day on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; the month before on February 14th, 1971 it had peaked at #9 {See second post below}...
    Exactly three weeks after their 'Goodtime Hour' appearance on April 18th, 1971 their next release, "The House on Pooh Corner", would enter the Top 100 at #89, eventually it would reach #53.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn August 21st 1920, Daphne Milne gave birth to a son, Christopher Robin Milne...
    Six years later in 1926 A. A. Milne, Daphne's husband, authored a book titled "Winnie-the-Pooh", and then two years later came his 2nd 'Pooh' book, "The House of Pooh Corner"...
    In 1971 the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released a covered version of Kenny Loggins' "The House on Pooh Corner"; it peaked at #53 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart...
    May Christopher Robin R.I.P. {1920 - 1996}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 14th 1971, "Mr. Bojangles" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band peaked at #9 (for 3 weeks) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on November 15th at position #92 and spent 19 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #2 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart...
    As stated above it was composed by Jerry Jeff Walker; his original version peaked at #77 on the Top 100 in 1969 (his home town is upstate New York is Oneonta)...
    In 1966 Jackson Browne was a member of the band...
    And in 1978 the band released "In For The Night" under their new name 'The Dirt Band'.
  • Camille from Toronto, Oh"I knew a man Bojangles and he danced for you...." Beautiful song; with its melancholy tune, descriptively sad lyrics, just puts out emotions that everyone's experienced. That's why it's always been so popular.
  • Paul from Detroit, MiWhen he sings "the dog up and died" , I always get a tear in my eye. Love this masterpiece.
  • Jim from Pleasant Hill, CaThe standard Nitty Gritty Dirt Band release has notable fuzz distortion on the edges of vocals. Good rendition, but not so good studio engineering.

    I concur that this song is about a white guy in jail using the pseudonym, not "the original" black Bojangles.
  • Jo from Austin, TxLittle known fact. Jerry did not write Mr. Bojangles. It was written by a transient (then called bum or hobo) who used to sit on the "Drag" close to UT playing his guitar and singing it. Jerry heard it and played it but when it came time to put it on his album, the transient had disappeared so Jerry took credit. I got this from someone who worked very closely on the album.
  • Bart from New Milford, NjNew Orleans jails were segregated back in those days; the dancer Mr. Walker met was Caucasian.
  • Dave from Cullman, AlI thing the comment writer meant 6/8 time. There's no such thing as 6/9 time.
  • Ed from Leland, NcDoes anyone know the lyrics of the missing 6th verse of Mr. Bojangles? If not, is there a when to contact the artist to see if he would reveal the details?
  • Garry from Anchorage, AkNo matter who records this song it sounds good. I've never heard a version that I didn't like. I always recommend this song to any young musician who wants to get noticed.
  • Mark from Lancaster, OhThis version is getting a lot of airplay on our local country-and-western radio station. Thanks for listing it; it is splendid.
  • Karl from Akron, , OhJim Stafford also did a version of this song
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Tony Banks of Genesis

Tony Banks of GenesisSongwriter Interviews

Genesis' key-man re-examines his solo career and the early days of music video.

Al Jourgensen of Ministry

Al Jourgensen of MinistrySongwriter Interviews

In the name of song explanation, Al talks about scoring heroin for William Burroughs, and that's not even the most shocking story in this one.

Sub Pop Founder Bruce Pavitt On How To Create A Music Scene

Sub Pop Founder Bruce Pavitt On How To Create A Music SceneSong Writing

With $50 and a glue stick, Bruce Pavitt created Sub Pop, a fanzine-turned-label that gave the world Nirvana and grunge. He explains how motivated individuals can shift culture.

Divided Souls: Musical Alter Egos

Divided Souls: Musical Alter EgosSong Writing

Long before Eminem, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj created alternate personas, David Bowie, Bono, Joni Mitchell and even Hank Williams took on characters.

Steve Morse of Deep Purple

Steve Morse of Deep PurpleSongwriter Interviews

Deep Purple's guitarist since 1994, Steve talks about writing songs with the band and how he puts his own spin on "Smoke On The Water."

Dexys (Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson)

Dexys (Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson)Songwriter Interviews

"Come On Eileen" was a colossal '80s hit, but the band - far more appreciated in their native UK than stateside - released just three albums before their split. Now, Dexys is back.