September 12

Let’s Listen again to Mr. Bojangles

The Song Inspiration

Just imagine, a 3.24-minute song that tells the story of a guy who is down and out in prison in New Orleans and meets a broken down old alcoholic who used to be a tap dancer. He learns of his love for his dog and of his life. But in that horrible old jail cell, the singer learns Mr. Bojangles’ philosophy.

He can laugh and dance in the face of all the sorrow and troubles in life. Right there in that old cell he jumps up and lands lightly on his feet, and that right there explains everything. Pardon me while I have a good cry for his life, for mine which is in its end phase, and for the amazing spirit of human beings who can look life and death in the face and still dance.

The Name

“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. In fact, the story was about Walker. He 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 cellmate was an older black man who made a living as a street dancer and told Walker all about his life.

Jerry Jeff Walker told American Songwriter Magazine May/June 1988 that the success of this showed that songs needn’t conform to rules. He explained:

“‘Bojangles’ broke all the rules. It was too long, was 6/9 time, about an old drunk and a dead dog. They had so many reasons why it didn’t fit anything. It would have never been a song if I had been living in Nashville and tried to take it through there. I recorded it in New York. I’ve always had my record deals through New York or L.A.”

The lyrics are wonderful that makes it a fantastic song! What’s more is the message that whatever we face in this life we have, we should never forget to laugh and dance.


mr. bojangles, the nitty gritty dirt band

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