Song Lyric Sunday – Mr. Bojangles

This week, along with a SHINY NEW GRAPHIC, Jim asks us to use Drifter/Loner/Transient/Vagabond as topics for our song choices.

A sleepless evening lets me post this soon after midnight. I will be sleeping in on Sunday.

The first song that came to mind was a classic — Mr. Bojangles. The song was written and originally recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker.

In the mid 60s, Jerry Jeff Walker was put in jail for public drunkenness while in New Orleans. It was here he would meet the inspiration for his song.

The moniker Mr. Bojangles was the nickname for Bill Robinson, a black tap dancer who performed in a number of successful films in the 1930s. Following his success, many black street performers became known as bojangles.

Over the July 4th weekend in 1965, a murder took place which precipitated the arrest of many street people in the area. This particular man was one of those arrested and told Jerry many stories of his life. When he told the story about his beloved dog getting hit and killed by a car, the mood became somber. Someone in the cell asked bojangles to dance to lighten the mood. He obliged with a tap dance.

Jerry Jeff Walker did not write the song until a few years later and would record the song himself in 1968.

“Mr. Bojangles” was recorded by a great number of well known artists over the years. The version most recognizable to me was recorded by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1970 so this is the video I will share. Live from Farm Aid 1985.

The Lyrics from

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 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, clicked his heels and stepped
He said his name, Bojangles and he danced a lick
Across the cell
He grabbed his pants, a better stance
Oh, he jumped so high
Then he clicked his heels
He let go a laugh
He let go a laugh
Pushed back his clothes all around
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles
He danced for those in minstrel shows and county fairs
Throughout the south
He spoke with tears of fifteen years how his dog and him
Traveled about
The 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 the time I spend behind these county bars
He said I drinks a bit
He shook his head
And as he shook his head
I heard someone ask him please
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles

Jim Adams provides the weekly topics that serve as the inspiration for Song Lyric Sunday. Check out his blog for the rules and read some of the other contributions in the comments section.


12 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday – Mr. Bojangles”

    1. That is a great clip, Pete. Thanks for posting it here. Bill Robinson was an amazing dancer. I am very familiar with the Sammy Davis, Jr. rendition of Mr. BoJangles. It is such an evocative lyric I can see why so many were drawn to record it.

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  1. Such a a great song, but a bit sad how it came to be. It was interesting to read the story of it’s inspiration. I hear it on the radio quite often. πŸ™‚

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  2. I can feel a wave of emotion come over me remembering this song though I can’t connect exactly why. Clearly something sad in my life at the time. I am amazed at the way music can call up old feeling states.

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    1. Music is powerful, Elizabeth. This song brings up similar emotions for me, or maybe it is simply a sense of longing for something. I can never quite put my finger on it.

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