Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Frankie and Johnny

First recorded (as “Frankie and Johnnie”) by Gene Greene & Charley Straight (1912).
First US recording by Al Bernard (1921).
Also recorded by Mississippi John Hurt (1928), Mae West (1933).
Popular versions by Ted Lewis & His Band (US #9 1927), Brook Benton (US #20/MOR #6/R&B #14 1961), Mr. Acker Bilk (UK #42 1962), Sam Cooke (US #14/MOR #2/R&B #4/UK #30 1963), Elvis Presley (US #25/UK #21 1966).

From the wiki: “The song ‘Frankie and Johnny’ (sometimes spelled ‘Frankie and Johnnie’; also known as ‘Frankie and Albert’ or just ‘Frankie’) was inspired by one or more actual murders. One took place in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1899 when Frankie Baker, a 22-year-old woman, shot her 17-year-old lover Allen (also known as ‘Albert’) Britt in the abdomen. The song has also been linked to Frances ‘Frankie’ Stewart Silver, convicted in 1832 of murdering her husband Charles Silver in Burke County, North Carolina. Popular St Louis balladeer Bill Dooley composed ‘Frankie Killed Allen’ shortly after the Baker murder case. The first published version of the music to ‘Frankie and Johnny’ appeared in 1904, credited to and copyrighted by Hughie Cannon, the composer of ‘Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey’.

“In 1934, John A. & Alan Lomax counted some 300 published versions in their American Ballads And Folk Songs. Comment of the Lomaxes: ‘No one has ever publicly heard the same version twice, unless from two convict performers who shared the same cell for years.’ These 300 variations begged for a doctorate’s degree paper, finally written by Bruce Buckley who makes a clear distinction between the Frankie & Albert’s following the St. Louis facts and the more popular fantasy variation, ‘Frankie & Johnny’, published in 1912.

“The first known recording of the story was produced by US vaudevillian Gene Greene and Chicago pianist Charley Straight while on tour in the UK, when they entered Pathé studios to record ‘Frankie and Johnnie’ in 1912. It was not released in the US. The first US recording was made by another vaudevillian, Al Bernard, in 1921.

“More than 256 different recordings of ‘Frankie and Johnny’ have been made since the early 20th century. Ted Lewis & His Band recorded the first popular rendition in 1927. Mae West inserted her bawdy ballad into her successful Broadway play Diamond Lil. West sang the ballad again in her 1933 Paramount film She Done Him Wrong, which takes its title from the refrain, substituting genders. A flurry of recordings in the 1960s made the Pop music charts, including recordings by Sam Cooke (somewhat ironically) in 1963, and Elvis Presley in 1966 for the soundtrack to Frankie and Johnny.”

Ted Lewis & His Band, “Frankie and Johnny” (1927):

Mississippi John Hurt, “Frankie” (1928):

Mae West, “Frankie and Johnny” (1933):

Brook Benton, “Frankie and Johnny” (1961):

Mr. Acker Bilk, “Frankie and Johnny” TV performance (1962):

Sam Cooke, “Frankie and Johnny” (1963):

Elvis Presley, “Frankie and Johnny” (1966):

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