Ain't Nobody's Business

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"'Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness if I Do"
Single by Anna Meyers with the Original Memphis Five
B-side "That Da Da Strain"
Released 1922 (1922)
Format 10-inch 78-rpm record
Recorded New York City, October 19, 1922
Genre Blues
Length 3:08
Label Pathé Actuelle (no. 20870)
Writer(s) Porter Grainger, Everett Robbins

"Ain't Nobody's Business" (originally "Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness if I Do") is a 1920s blues song that became one of the first blues standards.[1] It was published in 1922 by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins.[1] The song features a lyrical theme of freedom of choice and a vaudeville jazz–style musical arrangement.[2] It was first recorded, as "'Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness if I Do", in 1922 by Anna Meyers, backed by the Original Memphis Five.[3]

Recordings by other classic female blues singers, including Sara Martin, Alberta Hunter, and Bessie Smith soon followed.[1][3] In 1947, the song was revived by the jump blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon as "Ain't Nobody's Business".[4] It was the best-selling race record of 1949[5] and inspired numerous adaptations of the song.[1] In 2011, Witherspoon's rendition was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame as a "Classic of Blues Recording".[4]

Composition and lyrics[edit]


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The early versions of "Ain't Nobody's Business" feature vocals with piano and sometimes horn accompaniment. They are performed as moderate-tempo blues and have an extended sixteen-bar introduction:[2]

There ain't nothin' I can do nor nothin' I can say, that folks don't criticize me
But I'm gonna do just as I want to anyway, I don't care if they all despise me

The remaining verses are eight bars in length, with the first four describing a situation, such as "If I go to church on Sunday, then cabaret on Monday", and the last four concluding with the refrain "Tain't nobody's biz-ness if I do".[2] The song's eight-bar chord scheme was a model for subsequent "bluesy" Tin Pan Alley songs and R&B ballads in an AABA form. [6]

The music and lyrics are usually credited to two pianists – Porter Grainger, who had been Bessie Smith's accompanist from 1924 to 1928, and Everett Robbins, who had his own bands and worked briefly with Mamie Smith.[1][2][3][4] Clarence Williams, who played the piano on Bessie Smith's recording, is sometimes listed as a co-author of the song.[7]BMI, the performing rights organization, lists Grainger, Williams, Witherspoon, and Robert Prince.[8] The original lyrics were copyrighted in 1922 and are now in the public domain.[9] (See External links.)

Recordings and releases[edit]

1923 record label listing "Bessie SmithClarence Wiliams at the piano"

Anna Meyers recorded "'Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness if I Do" on October 19, 1922, in New York City,[10] backed by the Original Memphis Five.[10] The song was released as a ten-inch 78-rpm single on Pathé Actuelle for the US market by the French-based Pathé Records. Other early recordings include those by Sara Martin (with Fats Waller on piano) (December 1, 1922, OKeh 8043), Alberta Hunter (February 1923, Paramount 12016), and Bessie Smith (April 26, 1923, Columbia 3898). In Smith's version, the lyrics also mention an abusive partner:

I'd rather my man would hit me, than to jump right up and quit me ...
I swear I won't call no copper, if I'm beat up by my papa
Tain't nobody's business if I do

In 1928, a country blues rendition was recorded by Memphis, Tennessee, singer-guitarist Frank Stokes.[1] His finger-style acoustic guitar version uses a simple I-IV-V chord progression and different lyrics, including the refrain "It ain't nobody's business but mine".

In the post–World War II blues era, the jump blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon revived the song as "Ain't Nobody's Business".[4] His two-part rendition uses some new lyrics:

Some of these days I'm goin' crazy, buy me a shotgun and shoot my baby
Ain't nobody's business if I do

He performed it in the West Coast blues style with understated backing by piano, guitar, bass, drums, and a three-piece horn section.[5] The song was recorded in Los Angeles on November 15, 1947, and released by Supreme Records in September 1948.[5] It entered the record chart on March 5, 1949, and reached number one.[11] Witherspoon's song was the best-selling R&B record of 1949.[5]

Recognition and influence[edit]

In 2011, Witherspoon's "Ain't Nobody's Business" was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.[4] According to the Foundation, "its message continued to resonate, as borne out by the remarkable success of Witherspoon's two-part rendition, which remained on the Billboard 'race records' charts for 34 weeks. It was rated No. 3 in all-time chart longevity in Joel Whitburn's Top R&B Singles 1942–1988."[4]

His rendition also inspired numerous artists to record adaptations of the song,[1] usually with variations in the music and lyrics, including[12] versions by Ardis, James Booker, Eric Clapton, Sam Cooke, Mary Coughlan, Billie Holiday, Mississippi John Hurt, B.B. King, Freddie King, Willie Nelson, Diana Ross (for the film Lady Sings the Blues), Otis Spann, Taj Mahal, Susan Tedeschi, Dinah Washington, and Wingnut Dishwashers Union. A version by Hank Williams, Jr. peaked at number 15 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in 1990.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "Ain't Nobody's Business". Encyclopedia of the Blues. University of Arkansas Press. p. 436. ISBN 1-55728-252-8. 
  2. ^ a b c d The Blues. Hal Leonard Corporation. 1995. pp. 210–212. ISBN 0-79355-259-1. 
  3. ^ a b c Kostelanetz, Richard (2005). The B.B. King Reader: Six Decades of Commentary. Hal Leonard. p. 288. ISBN 978-0-634-09927-4. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Classics of Blues Recording – Singles and Album Tracks". Blues Hall of Fame Inductees Winners. Blues Foundation. 2011. Retrieved August 26, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d Vera, Billy (1992). Blues Masters – Volume 1: Urban Blues (CD compilation notes). Various Artists. Rhino Records. p. 3. R2 71121. 
  6. ^ Appen, Ralf von; Frei-Hauenschild, Markus (2015)."AABA, Refrain, Chorus, Bridge, Prechorus — Song Forms and their Historical Development". In: Samples. Online Publikationen der Gesellschaft für Popularmusikforschung/German Society for Popular Music Studies e.V. Vol. 13. Ralf von Appen, André Doehring and Thomas Phleps, eds. pp. 32–33.
  7. ^ Ackerman, Paul (June 29, 1959). "The 'Mother' Blues: Jazz from Developed from Many, Varied Influences". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media) 71 (24): 26. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  8. ^ "Ain't Nobody's Business (Legal Title) – BMI Work #15046". BMI Repertoire. BMI. Retrieved August 21, 2014. 
  9. ^ Hirtle, Peter B. (2010). "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States". Cornell University. Archived from the original on September 26, 2010. Retrieved November 2, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b Gibbs, Craig Martin (2012). Black Recording Artists, 1877–1926: An Annotated Discography. McFarland. p. 116. ISBN 978-1476600857. 
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research. p. 452. ISBN 0-89820-068-7. 
  12. ^ "Song Search Results for Ain't Nobody's Business". AllMusic. Rovi. Retrieved August 25, 2014. 
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2013). Hot Country Songs 1944–2012. Record Research. p. 373. ISBN 978-0-89820-203-8. 

External links[edit]

Song lyrics at Wikisource:Ain't Nobody's Business

Preceded by
"Trouble Blues" by Charles Brown Trio
Billboard Best Selling Retail Rhythm & Blues Records number-one single (Jimmmy Witherspoon version)
August 20, 1949
Succeeded by
"Trouble Blues" by Charles Brown Trio
"All She Wants to Do Is Rock" by Wynonie Harris