Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey

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1902 sheet music cover

"(Won't You Come Home) Bill Bailey", originally titled "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home?" is a popular song published in 1902. It is commonly referred to as simply "Bill Bailey".

Its words and music were written by Hughie Cannon (1877–1912), an American songwriter and pianist. It is still a standard with Dixieland and traditional jazz bands. The simple 32-bar chord sequence of its chorus also underpins many other tunes played mainly by jazz bands, such as "Over the Waves", "Washington and Lee Swing", "Bourbon Street Parade", "My Little Girl", and the final themes of "Tiger Rag" and "The Beer Barrel Polka".

Excerpt of jazz band version by Kid Ory, 1946, chorus only.


It was a #1 hit for Arthur Collins in July 1902. Among the artists who have covered the song are Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Patsy Cline, Bobby Darin, Aretha Franklin from Take a Look (1967), Brenda Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Durante, Phish, Danny Barker, Harry Connick Jr, Renee Olstead, Michael Bublé, Sam Cooke, Al Hirt[1] and others. Singer and actress Della Reese recorded the song in 1961, and it entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number #98, and became a part of her performance repertoire. In Britain the Edwardian music hall star Victoria Monks (1884–1927) popularised the song in 1905 and thereafter it became her most demanded and remembered song.

Most commonly it is performed in a truncated version based on the chorus. While the chorus is much more familiar than the verse, some artists continue to perform the verse as well, sometimes as an introduction. Without the lyrics of the seldom heard verse, one doesn't know who Bill Bailey is nor why he isn't home. (An unusual approach is Bobby Darin's version, as he added his own spoken word introduction, as an aside to the mythical Bailey.)


The Jewish-American parodist Allan Sherman recorded a parody of this song on his 1963 album My Son, the Celebrity, entitled "Won't You Come Home Disraeli?"

In the "Miss Solar System" episode of The Jetsons, first aired February 3, 1963, Jane belts out "Won't You Fly Home Bill Spacely" in Hanna-Barbera's own parody of the song. Hanna-Barbera (with Cartoon Network Studios) makes more frequent use of the song throughout its Johnny Bravo cartoon series.

Children's performer Tom Chapin recorded a version of this song on his album Some Assembly Required.

In The Simpsons episode "Whacking Day", Grampa Simpson is featured posing as a female cabaret singer in Nazi Germany, singing this song to Adolf Hitler.

The 1980 Smurfs album, "Smurfing Sing Song", includes a version of this song entitled "Smurf Baby" which is the "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey" chorus repeated and the name "Bill Bailey" is replaced with "Smurf Baby".

Sandler & Young recorded a 20-minute medley where Bill Bailey is adapted to England, France, Switzerland, Nashville, Italian opera, Bach, Israel (with Jewish jokes), and climaxing with the U.S.A.

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the 1999 film "I'll Take You There"[2] starring Ally Sheedy and Adrienne Shelly the film opens with the song. A sultry rendition is first sung by a soon to be awol wife. It then plays in the opening credits. It is also later sung by Sheedy's character's grandmother as she plays the tune on the piano and makes some comical, philosophical commentary about the lyrics.
  • In The Flintstones season 2 episode "The Happy Household", Wilma Flintstone sings a few lines of the song during her audition for The Happy Housewife Show.
  • In an episode of the British panel game QI, themed around cockney rhyming slang, Bill Bailey's buzzer which, when pressed, played Patsy Cline's version of the song. He responded sarcastically, "No-one's ever pointed that out before!"
    • Bill Bailey's (born Mark Bailey), music teacher, Ian Phipps, gave him the nickname "Bill" in reference to this song for his ability to play it on guitar[3]
  • The song figures prominently in the movie "Papa's Delicate Condition" where it is not only sung several times and used as background music, but also played by a circus calliope. The general theme of the song is also echoed in the plot of the movie.
  • In a continuing tradition at shows predominantly in the Carolinas Phish has performed "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home" six times, each time with Page McConnell's father, Dr. Jack McConnell on vocals and featuring a tap-dancing number.[4]
  • In the 1982 fantasy film The Last Unicorn, a butterfly sings "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey" to the Unicorn.
  • The song is played at the beginning of the Rugrats episode, "Music".
  • A woman sings part of the song during an interview for a babysitting position in the movie Corrina Corrina.
  • An escaped purple gorilla sings part of the song whilst walking down a street in the pilot episode of Johnny Bravo.
  • In the last episode of Gilligan's Island, Ginger and Mary Ann sing this in hopes of distracting a native.
  • An SNL skit starring Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm entitled "1920s Party" has the main character playing this song on the piano as a feature in the skit.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Full lyric:

Traditional arrangement (from the "Historic American Sheet Music" site):