Willie the Weeper

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"Willie the Weeper"
Written 1904 (possibly)
Songwriter(s) Unknown

"Willie the Weeper" is a song about drug addiction. It is based on a standard vaudeville song, likely written in 1904.[1] It is credited to Walter Melrose, Grant Rymal, Marty Bloom, who published it with Morris Edwin H & Co Inc in 1908.[2] The first recording was likely by Freddie Keppard between 1923 and 1926. Many artists recorded it in 1927, including Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon, Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven, and King Oliver. Ernest Rodgers recorded a version, also in 1927,[3] which shares several lines with Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher".[4][5]

The song has many different versions, but all share a common theme: Willie, a chimney sweeper with a dope habit, is introduced. The rest of the song is a description of his drug-induced dream. As Carl Sandburg wrote in his book The American Songbag:

R. W. Gordon in his editorship of the Adventure magazine department "Old Songs That Men Have Sung" received thirty versions of Willy the Weeper, about one hundred verses different. Willy shoots craps with kings, plays poker with presidents, eats nightingale tongues a queen cooks for him; his Monte Carlo winnings come to a million, he lights his pipe with a hundred dollar bill, he has heart affairs with Cleopatra, the Queen of Sheba, and movie actresses.[6]

In later years, various artists covered the song. Dave Van Ronk has covered this song. Bette Davis sings this song in the film The Cabin in the Cotton. The song should not be confused with Billy Walker's 1962 song "Willie the Weeper," which reached #5 on the country charts. Despite having the same title, the songs are unrelated.

Derivative works[edit]

  • "Minnie the Moocher"
  • Willie the Weeper (1948), a one-act musical by Jerome Moross


  1. ^ Where Dead Voices Gather, Nick Tosches. 2009
  2. ^ Second Hand Songs, https://secondhandsongs.com/work/129341/all
  3. ^ Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/Willie
  4. ^ Lorenz, Brenna & Lorenz, Megaera. (2001). Heptune Lorenz-Pulte Jazz and Blues Page. Retrieved January 11, 2008, from http://www.heptune.com/jazzfolk.html
  5. ^ (1999). "Willie the Weeper". Retrieved 2008-01-11, from http://www.heptune.com/willieth.html
  6. ^ Carl Sandburg, The American Songbag, p. 242