Breedloves's Folk Songs


    “Mr. Bojangles” is a popular song written and initially recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker in
    1968 and covered since by many other artists. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band took the song to
    #9 on the Billboard pop chart in 1971. The song was inspired by an encounter with a
    street performer in the New Orleans first precinct jail. Although this man could tap dance,
    the inspiration for the song was not the famous stage and movie dancer Bill “Bojangles
    Robinson, nor the New Orleans blues musician Babe Stovall).
    According to Walker, a murder on the July 4th weekend of 1965, precipitated the arrest of
    all the street people in the area. In the crowded cell, a dishevelled, old, homeless man got
    talking to Walker, who had been arrested earlier in the day. The man told various stories
    of his life, but the tone darkened after ‘Mr Bojangles’ recalled his dog that had been run
    over. Someone then asked for something to lighten the mood and the man obliged with a
    tap dance.
    Walker mentions that all the men in the cell had nicknames, to prevent easy identification
    by the police. The dancer’s name, or handle, was Mr Bojangles, no doubt after Bill
    Robinson. In his autobiography ‘Gypsy Songman’, Walker makes it clear the man he met
    was white. Further, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 in August 2008, he pointed out that
    at the time the jail cells in New Orleans were segregated along color lines, so his
    influence could not have been black.
    I knew a man Bojangles and he’d dance for you
    In worn out shoes
    Silver hair and ragged shirt and baggy pants
    He did the old soft shoe
    He jumped so high he jumped so high
    Then he’d lightly touch down
    I met him in a cell in New Orleans
    I was down and out
    He looked to me to be the eyes of age
    As he spoke right out
    He talked of life he talked of life
    He laughed slapped his leg a step
    He said the name Bojangles and he danced a lick across the cell
    He grabbed his pants a better stance then he jumped so high
    He clicked his heels
    He let go a laugh oh he let go a laugh
    Shook back his clothes all around
    Mr. Bojangles
     Mr. Bojangles
    Mr. Bojangles
    He danced for those at minstrel shows and county fairs throughout the South
    He spoke with tears of fifteen years how his dog and him traveled about
    His dog up and died he up and died
    After twenty years he still grieves
    He said I dance now at every chance in honky tonks for drinks and tips
    But most o’ the time I spend behind these county bars
    Hell I drinks a bit
    He shook his head and as he shook his head
    I heard someone ask him please

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