Frankie And Johnny

Album: various (1904)
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  • Originally titled "Frankie and Albert," this traditional murder ballad was inspired by the real-life crime of passion committed by Frankie Baker in 1899. Frankie discovered her lover, Albert Britt, had been with another woman and took revenge by shooting him at a boardinghouse in St. Louis, Missouri. She would be acquitted under plea of self-defense.

    The origins of the song as we know it today are a bit murky. That same year, local singer Bill Dooley composed a song sensationalizing the case, and it became a popular mainstay in local saloons before its official publication as "Frankie and Johnny" in 1904. The song was not credited to Dooley, however, but to ragtime composer/lyricist Hughie Cannon.

    Frank and Bert Leighton's 1908 version, which was published as "Frankie and Johnny" in 1912, brought us the familiar opening:

    Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts
    They had a quarrel one day

    Countless covers over the years have provided many variations of the song. Sometimes the duo are "lovers" instead of "sweethearts." Johnny's mistress can be Alice Pry or Nelly Bly. Sometimes, Frankie is cheered by onlookers as she shoots Johnny and is exonerated; other times, she's executed.
  • Many artists have recorded this, including Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Sam Cooke sang a cleaner version than most, which is the most popular contemporary cover. Here are the charting versions in America:

    1959, #57 - Johnny Cash
    1961, #20 - Brook Benton
    1963, #14 - Sam Cooke
    1964, #75 - The Greenwood County Singers
    1966, #25 - Elvis Presley
  • Elvis Presley starred in a 1966 movie called Frankie And Johnny where he performed the song. In 1991, another movie of the same name was released starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, who in one scene banter over the song when they realize they are named Frankie and Johnny. The exchange:

    Pfeiffer: Didn't they kill each other?
    Pacino: No. She killed him. You got the edge there.
  • In 1942, the real Frankie Baker filed a defamation suit against Republic Pictures for the 1936 film Frankie and Johnnie, starring Helen Morgan and Chester Morris. Frankie lost the lawsuit and was never able to escape her reputation as a murderer, though she had been acquitted. She said during the (defamation) court proceedings: "I was pointed out as the worst woman in the world and introduced as the Frankie of song, instead of Miss Baker."
  • Brook Benton's R&B version was included in the 2011 compilation Mad Men: A Musical Companion.
  • Anika Noni Rose performed this in the 2011 miniseries Bag of Bones, based on the Stephen King novel. Rose played Sara Tidwell in the movie.

Comments: 8

  • Terry from Kent, WashingtonJust watched Red-Headed Woman starring Jean Harlow from 1932. In one scene, this song is playing on a phonograph. It is creditted to be sung by Cliff Edwards. I just wanted to find out just how old this song was.

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1966 {April 8th} Elvis' twentieth featured film, 'Frankie and Johnny', premiered at the Victoria Theatre in London, England...
    At the time Elvis' "Frankie and Johnny" was in it's first week on the United Kingdom's Official Top 40 Singles chart as position #36, four weeks later it would peak at #21 {for 1 week} and it spent eight weeks on the Top 40 chart...
    Between 1957 and 2002 'The King' had sixteen #1 records on the U.K. Singles chart, in addition from 1956 to 1969 he had nine 'just misses' when nine of his records peaked at #2...
    He had fourteen posthumous records make the UK Singles chart.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 5th 1963, the 'Sam Cooke and Dion' tour appeared at the Keil Opera House in St. Louis, Missouri...
    At the time Sam Cooke's version of "Frankie and Johnny" was at #47 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, it was also its 11th and final week on the chart; one month and five days earlier on September 1st it had peaked at #14 {for 2 weeks}...
    It reached #4 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    His next three releases; "Little Red Rooster", "Good News", and "Good Times"; would all peak at #11 on the Top 100 chart, and they each spent 10 weeks on the chart...
    Sadly, Mr. Cooke passed away on December 11th, 1964 at the young age of 33...
    May he R.I.P.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyBrook Benton came the closest to matching Cooke's success with his version, he peaked at No. 20 in 1961 while Elvis reached No. 25 in 1966!!! {Sam peaked at No. 14}
  • Musicmama from New York, NyThis is a great song. Even though it's traditional, I think of this as Sam Cooke's song in much the same way that I think of "Hey Joe" as Jimi Hendrix's song. Yes, Sam did the best--and most original and unique version because, well, he was Sam Cooke. Nobody can be compared to him.

    You may be interested to know that Laura Nyro also did a version of this song on her "New York Tendaberry" album.
  • Memphis "piano" Joe from Los Angeles, CaYOUTUBE...I just completed a piano-instrumental video of Frankie and Johnny. Search at YouTube for - - Memphis Piano Joe Frankie and Johnny - - or cut and paste into your browser:
    Thanks, and hope you like it,
  • Pie from Vegas, United Statesi rule!!!
  • Htrdj from Htdjyt, Ilthis song is amazing Sam Cooke is a legend
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