Won’t You Come Home
by Bill Bailey
Italy is regarded for its inspiration of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts is the namesake of Henry David Thoreau’s famous novel. Jamaica is known as the birthplace of Bob Marley’s reggae music.People often associate great art with the place it was created. For me, Jackson makes me think of Hughie Cannon’s song, “(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey?”
Zelda Sheldon performs the Jackson classic in Sydney, Australia on her ukulele, 9,405 miles from the song’s origin. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp9cYvQsA2Q
Okay. This old ragtime song probably hasn’t reached Mona Lisa status and of course most people born prior to 1970 have never heard it, but it was created right here in Jackson and Jacksonians take pride in that. Believe me…I’ve heard it from time to time.
In my short tenure here I have had this song sung at me about 50,000 times. When I was growing up in Muskegon this song was sung to me any time I introduced myself to someone familiar with early 20th century jazz, but never as much as I’ve heard it from people in Jackson.
As it was told to me by a proud patron of the BZB Cafe on Mechanic St., who was coincidentally also named Bill,“(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey?” was created in the bars of Frogtown, the area downtown near the Grand River. It was written by a 16-year-old, Detroit native Hughie Cannon, and inspired by trombonist Willard “Bill” Bailey, for whom the song got it’s title. As it goes, Cannon and Bailey frequented the taverns of old Jackson despite Mrs. Bailey’s pleas for her husband to please come home. Cannon was so inspired he produced one of the biggest ragtime hits of his time.
Cannon’s song soon met notoriety as the likes of Louis Armstrong, Patsy Cline, Harry Connick Jr., and most recently Michael Buble immortalized Bailey’s wife’s wishes for her husband to be domesticated. By the 1950s Jackson residents would soon take pride in the ditty that garnered international fame and claimed their city to be the conception point of one of the world’s most famous showtunes.
Like the Buick, Ritz Cracker, and the Republican Party, “(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey?” is now known as one of Jackson’s great contributions to society. Although the song may not be as great a piece of history as the Grand Old Party or an iconic automobile, Jacksonians to this day brag about the song’s origins in their beloved city.
Of course, no one would know this better than I, Bill Bailey. I made this city my home five months ago. While I claim no relationship to the man for which the famous song was named, I do feel connected to the City of Jackson because of it. I don’t believe a newcomer could ever ask for a better welcoming than to have a personalized song begging him, “please come home.” Although this song may have been written far before my time, to me it seems very appropriate that it was written in a city so willing to accept outsiders — a special city like no other, our Jackson.
Here’s Brenda Lee’s upbeat version: :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_TGpSotYqM
Think about it … a song written in Jackson has had worldwide impact spanning four generations, from Louis Armstrong to Brenda Lee to The Jetsons to The Simpsons, even The Smurfs! A 16-year-old songwriter’s simple song will live on and continue to thrive in our continually recycled, inspiring American culture.