Written and first released by Jerry Jeff Walker (US #77 1968).
Other hit version by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (US #9/MOR #10/CAN #9/NZ #2 1970), Nina Simone (UK #96 1988).
Also recorded by David Bromberg (1973), Sammy Davis Jr. (1972).
From the wiki: “Jerry Jeff Walker has said he was inspired to write the song after an encounter with a street performer in a New Orleans jail and that the song does not refer to the famous stage and movie personality Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson. Rather, Walker said while in jail for public intoxication in 1965 he met a homeless white man who called himself ‘Mr. Bojangles’ to conceal his true identity from the police. The two men and others in the cell chatted about all manner of things, but when Mr. Bojangles told a story about his dog, the mood in the room turned heavy. Someone else in the cell asked for something to lighten the mood, and Mr. Bojangles obliged with a tap dance.
“Jerry Jeff Walker recorded the single version (with a string orchestra) in Memphis, Tennessee on June 7, 1968, and it was released by Atco Records on June 20. He also recorded a non-string version in New York City for his album Mr. Bojangless. It was released by Atco on September 25, 1968.
“The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band charted worldwide with ‘Mr. Bojangles’ in 1970, going Top-10 in the US, Canada and New Zealand. Nina Simone’s 1988 cover charted in the UK.
“‘Mr. Bojangles’ became especially associated with Sammy Davis, Jr. who often performed the song on television and the stage in semi-autobiographical fashion.”
Jerry Jeff Walker & David Bromberg, “Mr. Bojangles” live radio performance on WBAI-FM’s Radio Unnameable (1967):
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “Mr. Bojangles (Prologue: Uncle Charlie and his dog, Teddy)” (1970):
Sammy Davis, Jr., “Mr. Bojangles” (1972):
David Bromberg, “Mr. Bojangles” live recording (1973):
Nina Simone, “Mr. Bojangles” (1988):