Jerry Jeff Walker wrote Mr. Bojangles but it has been recorded by everyone including a famous version by Bob Dylan. Walker has said he was inspired to write the song after an encounter with a street performer in a New Orleans jail and that the song does not refer to the famous stage and movie personality Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Walker said while in jail for public intoxication in 1965, he met a homeless white man who called himself “Mr. Bojangles” to conceal his true identity from the police. He had been arrested as part of a police sweep of indigent people that was carried out following a high-profile murder. The two men and others in the cell chatted about all manner of things, but when Mr. Bojangles told a story about his dog, the mood in the room turned heavy. Someone else in the cell asked for something to lighten the mood, and Mr. Bojangles obliged with a tap dance.

the words really read like a beautiful poem:

Knew a man Bojangles and he’d dance for you in worn out shoes
Silver hair, ragged shirt and baggy pants, that old soft shoe
He’d jump so high, he’d jump so high, then he lightly touch down?
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance.

I met him in a cell in New Orleans, I was down and out
He looked to me to be the eyes of age as he spoke right out
He talked of life, he talked of life, laughing slapped his leg stale
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance.

He said the name Bojangles and he danced a lick all across the cell
He grabbed his pants for a better stance, oh, he jumped so high and he clicked up his heels
He let go laugh, he let go laugh, shook back his clothes all around
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance, yeah, dance.

He danced for those at minstrel shows and county fairs throughout the south
He spoke with tears of 15 years of how his dog and him but just travelled all about
His dog up and died, he up and died, and after 20 years he still grieves
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance.

He said, “I dance now at every chance at honky-tonks for drinks and tips.
But most of the time I spend behind these county bars, ’cause I drinks a bit”
He shook his head, yes, he shook his head, I heard someone ask him, “Please,
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles, dance, dance, Mr. Bojangles, dance.”

Here’s my favorite version by Harry Nillson, an amazing musician who wrote most of his own music and sadly died as a young man.

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