ST. JAMES INFIRMARY BLUES
“St. James Infirmary Blues” is an American folksong of anonymous origin, though
sometimes credited to the songwriter Joe Primrose (a pseudonym for Irving Mills). Louis
Armstrong made it famous in his influential 1928 recording. The source of this song is an
18th century English folk song called “The Unfortunate Rake” (also known as
“Unfortunate Lad” or “The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime”). There are versions of
this song throughout the English-speaking world, and it evolved into American standards
such as “The Streets of Laredo” or “The Dying Cowboy”. “The Unfortunate Rake” is
about a sailor who uses his money on prostitutes, and it implies that he dies of a venereal
disease. When the song moved to America, gambling and drinking became the cause of
the man’s death. Notable performers of this song include Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Cab
Calloway, Louis Armstrong.
Folks, I’m goin’ down to St. James Infirmary,
See my baby there;
She’s stretched out on a long, white table,
She’s so sweet, so cold, so fair.
Let her go, let her go, God bless her,
Wherever she may be,
She will search this wide world over,
But she’ll never find another sweet man like me.
Now, when I die, bury me in my straight-leg britches,
Put on a box-back coat and a Stetson hat,
Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain,
So you can let all the boys know I died standing pat.
An’ give me six crap shooting pall bearers,
Let a chorus girl sing me a song.
Put a red hot jazz band at the top of my head
So we can raise Hallelujah as we go along.
Folks, now that you have heard my story,
Say, boy, hand me another shot of that booze;
If anyone should ask you,
Tell ’em I’ve got those St. James Infirmary blues.