Day 8 – 16 Days of Jackson Classic Ragtime Tune Penned by 16-Year-Old Welcomes Bill Bailey to JACKSON

Community Engagement

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.

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.

bill bailey

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: :

Victory Lane, between Restaurant One Five One and Bella Notte in Downtown Jackson

Victory Lane, between Restaurant One Five One and Bella Notte in Downtown Jackson


Bill Bailey - J.D. McDuffie #70 tribute wheel in Victory Lane

Bill Bailey – J.D. McDuffie #70 tribute wheel in Victory Lane

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.


16 Days of Jackson Day Four – Jackson Pastor Planted Seeds for Nelson Mandela’s Life of Influential Peacemaking

Community Engagement

Nelson Mandela forged peace and renewal in a divided nation, breaking down racial walls and healing his homeland.  Four generations of Jacksonians watched from afar, Builders, Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers, each with their own take on this wonderful man’s life and influence.  Builders laid the groundwork by serving in WWII, Korea, even Vietnam.  Their civic clubs helped strengthen international peacekeeping endeavors and their ideas created NATO, the United Nations and numerous NGOs.  Boomers opened the doors wide with domestic cultural reforms and breakthroughs, passing the torch to Gen Xers who had their worldviews built around the true heroes of our world, most notably Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa and Madiba (Nelson Mandela’s intimate family name).

That brings us to Gen Yers and Millennials, the Facebook and Twitter generation that killed MySpace and gravitated en masse to post tributes to Mandela this past week.  They loved the abundant joy exhibited at Mandela’s funeral.  They celebrated when President Obama shook hands with Cuba’s President Raul Castro and dreamed of a future defined by peace.

But a century before Kennedy’s assassination, a century before the loss of Martin Luther King, Jr., a century before the walls came down in Berlin — a simple man, a Jackson pastor by the name of Jabez Fox, showed cultural reform courage 100 years before his time.  His activism laid the seeds for the elimination of racial persecution, breakthrough prison reform and exemplary conviction rooted in spiritual understanding similar to Martin Luther centuries earlier.

The Hart Brothers profiled Reverend Jabez Fox in their Burgh strip which appears here:

Jackson Pastor Jabez Fox learns of Jackson's prison practices and racial profiling.

Jackson Pastor Jabez Fox learns of Jackson’s prison practices and racial profiling.


 Madiba & Jabez Fox – Hope for the Future, Inspired by Two Heroes Centuries Apart

All week this week, I have tried to understand my two personal interactions with Bishop Desmond Tutu.  I’ve composed a short poem and twice delivered a Mandela tribute speech. Here is my Jackson Rotary Holiday Fun Bash speech:

For me, Rotary International stands for peace and prosperity.  Peace because of Rotary international endeavors bringing together leaders to forge peace, a great success that has continued for generations. Prosperity because of opportunities given to young people, millions delivered from the threat of polio, thousands who have gone to college or experienced other cultures through Rotary Exchange.

I’m grateful today for the life and inspiration of Nelson Mandela.

I’m grateful today for the legacy carried on by my friend and hero, Bishop Desmond Tutu.

I’m grateful today for four years of a top-rated liberal arts education, thanks to Rotary.

I’m grateful today for friends and fellowship, fun and laughs, the kind that only our Club provides.

Jackson is the greatest community in the world.

Look around you.  Look at the people, the leaders who have served this community so well, so faithfully and passionately for decades.  Look at the entrepreneurial spirit present in each and every detail of this beautiful restaurant and brewery, Grand River Marketplace.

Tonight, we’re here to celebrate Rotary and have fun with one another.

I encourage you all to mingle, greet guests and enjoy the musical experience that is Steve Trosin.

Before I turn it over to Steve I wanted to share this 16 Days of Jackson Rotary Holiday Fun Bash poem with you:

Here we are, years later

Another Christmas season,

snowflakes floating gently down to our city streets

What could be better

Nothing could be better than what we have here

Smiles, Laughter, Friends and Festive Libations

Here we are, years later

Another Christmas season,

We catch a glimpse of hope and feel the cool breeze of peace

What could be better

Nothing could be better than what we have here

Memories of Lou Reed’s velvety voice

Memories of Nelson Mandela’s courageous smile

Many people who heard the speech asked me:  “who’s Lou Reed?”

I couldn’t believe the question, since Reed’s band the Velvet Underground is recognized as one of the greatest of a generation.  Rolling Stone considers the “Velvet Underground” album with the Andy Warhol banana album cover art as the #13 greatest album of all time.

Since this is the 16 Days of Jackson, here’s the link to the #16 greatest album of all time on the Rolling Stone list, Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks”

Lou Reed also joined Emily Haines and her band Metric for the duet “The Wanderlust” on Metric’s latest album Synthetica.  Reed joined Metric onstage to perform the song in this video:

Two Canadian bands — both among my current favorites — commented on Reed’s passing in this article:

With all those tributes to Reed, I’ll close this post as I closed my Mandela speeches; with a quote from Bishop Desmond Tutu, whom I met at a church service in Connecticut as a teenager and then again at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco 18 months ago.

“Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth,

the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless.”