Thursday, October 11, 2018
THROWBACK THURSDAY: Jimmy Brown the Newsboy, It's Almost Your Day!
It's almost International Newspaper Carrier Day. So in honor of that cherished holiday, which this year falls on Saturday Oct. 13, let's take a look at song about America's most beloved newsboy, a lad named Jimmy Brown.
William Shakespeare wrote the original version of this song. William Shakespeare Hays, that is. He was a songwriter born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1837. Hays wrote it under the title of "Jimmie Brown (the Paper Boy). It had a different melody than the one we later came to know (CLICK HERE to download a midi version). But the story is basically the same:
I'm very cold and hungry, sir,
My clothes are worn and thin,
I wander on from place to place,
My daily bread to win;
But never mind, sir, how I look,
Don't sneer at me, or frown,--
I'm selling papers, for I am
The newsboy, Jimmie Brown.
I sell the morning paper, sir,
My name is Jimmie Brown,--
Most ev'ry body knows I am
The "poor boy of the town."
My father was a drunkard, sir,
So I've heard my mother say,--
Before he died, how oft for him
I've heard her weep and pray!
But I am helping mother now,
I journey up and down,
To sell my papers, for I am
The newsboy, Jimmie Brown.
My mother tells me ev'ry night
To kneel with her and pray,--
She says if I've an honest heart,
I'll be all right some day;
And when she's gone to heaven, sir,
To wear a starry crown,
She'll wait up there to welcome home
The newsboy of the town.
A.P. Carter took the song, rewrote some of the lyrics, gave it a different melody and, as was his practice, gave himself the songwriting credit. Here's the Carter Family's version.
Bill Monroe, Mac Wiseman and others recorded "Jimmy Brown," but my favorite bluegrass version is by Flatt & Scruggs. Lester sang, while banjo deity Earl Scruggs proved that he's pretty darn good at flat-picking a guitar.
The song drifted overseas where Lonnie Donegan skiffled it all up.
It's a completely different song, but in 1989, Stan Ridgway recorded a song about another news carrier. This one is older, more cynical and more philosophical than little Jimmy Brown. And he also has crazy fantasies about becoming a caped crusader.
For more deep dives into songs, check out The Stephen W. Terrell Web Log Songbook
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