Parallel Anthology Track 21
Record label does not assign authorship. Nor does either Anthology booklet, or www.78discography.com.
The Roud Folksong Index classifies this song as a version of Roud 254. A Roud number search returns a number of versions which pre-date Hurt's recording dating back to 1909 across a very wide geographical area (N Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Missouri, California).
According to the Where Dead Voices Gather blog:
Like the story of Stackalee, "Frankie" is based on a documented real-life incident:
"Allen Britt, colored, was shot and badly wounded shortly after 2 o’clock yesterday morning by Frankie Baker, also colored. The shooting occurred in Britt’s room at 212 Targee Street, and was the culmination of a quarrel. The woman claimed that Britt had been paying attentions to another woman. The bullet entered Britt’s abdomen, penetrating the intestines. The woman escaped after the shooting. - St Louis Globe-Democrat, October 16, 1899."
Somehow, this minor incident of domestic violence caught the public imagination and was immortalized in song. The first published version of the song appeared in 1904 and was copyrighted by Hughie Cannon. Another version was copyrighted by Frank and Bert Leighton in 1908, under the title "Bill, You Done Me Wrong." It was republished in 1912 under the title "Frankie and Johnny." Exactly when and how Albert (Al Britt) morphed into "Johnny" is unknown. It was in the 1912 version by the Leighton brothers, however, that Alice Frye turned into "Nellie Bly." The now familiar melody of the song (not used in Hurt's version) was derived from an unrelated song (also published in 1912) titled "You're My Baby," written by Nat Ayer. The song has been recorded at least 256 times over the years. It has been performed by Leadbelly, Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, Lena Horne, Lonnie Donegan, Bob Dylan, Joe and Eddie, Taj Mahal, Charlie Patton, Charlie Poole, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley (who also starred in a film version), Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Vincent, Fats Waller, Van Morrison, Michael Pappas, Brook Benton, Stevie Wonder, Jack Johnson, Michelle Shocked, and Lindsay Lohan, just to name a few.