Tag Archives: folk traditionals

Classic Songs: How a St. Louis murder led to the traditional “Frankie and Johnny”

There is something special about the city of St. Louis in music history. It is the songs and the musicians who created history. We all know the legendary St. Louis Blues by W.C. Handy, and don’t forget the great St. Louis Jimmy Oden who wrote the Blues classic “Goin ‘Down Slow”

Murder in St. Louis as inspiration

Well, I heard a song called Frankie and Johnny multiple time through Leadbelly and Sam Cooke, who both made in their own way made beautiful soulful versions of it. Also, Elvis has an album titled Frankie and Johnny which was part of the movie with the same name where he performed the song. But behind this great song, there is a story.

According to the Smithsonian Folkways, “In October 1899, a murder took place in a St. Louis apartment (St. Louis murders have inspired multiple ballads, such as “Duncan and Brady”).

Frankie and Albert

Frankie Baker (1876–1952) killed her lover Al “Albert” Britt in a jealous rage after he went to a dance with another woman”,  In some lyrics, Frankie was a prostitute and Al, her pimp.” They also say that The shooting occurred in Britt’s room at 212 Targee Street. You can find multiple investigational stories about the murder online.

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