♫ Mr. Bojangles ♫

As a child, I was a fan of such musicians as Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr.  Because of my father’s work and contacts, I met people who most kids growing up in the 50s and 60s didn’t get to meet, and Sammy Davis was one such.  Having met him ‘up close and personal’ at around age 8 or 9, he was one of my favourites of the time.

Mr. Bojangles was the nickname used by Bill Robinson, a black tap dancer who appeared in many movies in the 1930s, including with Shirley Temple in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. After Robinson’s success, many black street dancers became known as “Bojangles.”

This was written and originally released by the singer/songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, who wrote the song in the mid-’60s and recorded it in 1968. Walker left his home in upstate New York and traveled the country playing music. He spent some time in New Orleans, where one day he was a bit tipsy and made a public display trying to convince a young lady that love at first sight was real. This landed him in jail, where his cell mate was an older black man who made a living as a street dancer and told Walker all about his life.

According to Walker …

“One of the guys in the cell jumped up and said, ‘Come on, Bojangles. Give us a little dance.’ ‘Bojangles’ wasn’t so much a name as a category of itinerant street entertainer known back as far as the previous century. The old man said, ‘Yes, Hell yes.’ He jumped up, and started clapping a rhythm, and he began to dance. I spent much of that long holiday weekend talking to the old man, hearing about the tough blows life had dealt him, telling him my own dreams.

And here it came, just sort of tumbling out, one straight shot down the length of that yellow pad. On a night when the rest of the country was listening to The Beatles, I was writing a 6/8 waltz about an old man and hope. It was a love song. In a lot of ways, Mr. Bojangles is a composite. He’s a little bit of several people I met for only moments of a passing life. He’s all those I met once and will never see again and will never forget.”

Sammy Davis, Jr. made this song a part of his stage shows and live performances for nearly two decades.  Mr. Davis’ version is not the one that hit the charts, but I include it here because … Mr. Davis is an entertainer in every sense of the word, and because … I like it, it brings back memories.

The version that charted, reaching #9 in the U.S. and #2 in Canada is the one by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, released in 1970, and I include that one as well. Listen to one, listen to both … whatever makes you smile today.  The lyrics are slightly different between versions, so I am including the lyrics only for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band version.

Mr. Bojangles
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

I knew a man Bojangles and he danced for you
In worn out shoes
Silver hair, a ragged shirt and baggy pants
The old soft shoe

He jumped so high
He jumped so high
Then he’d lightly touched down

Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Dance

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 lightly slapped his leg instead

He said the name Bojangles and he danced a lick
Across the cell
He grabbed his pants for a better stance
He jumped so high
He clicked his heels

He let go a laugh
He let go a laugh
Shook back his clothes all around

Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Dance

We danced for those at minstrel shows and county fairs
Throughout the south
We spoke in tears of fifteen years
How his dog and him
They travelled about

His dog up and died
He up and died
After twenty years he still grieves

They said I dance now at every chance and honky tonks
For drinks and tips
But most the time I spend behind these county bars
Cause I drinks a bit

He shook his head and as he shook his head
I heard someone ask please

Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Dance

Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Jerry Jeff Walker
Mr. Bojangles lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc