Frankie and Johnny (somtimes called Frankie and Albert) has become a traditional song. At least 256 different versions of it have been recorded since the early 20th century, many by jazz bands and also by artists including Lead Belly, Mississippi John Hurt, Charlie Poole, Taj Mahal, Dave Brubeck, and Bob Dylan. The story was also adapted into a several films, including "Her Man" (1930, starring Helen Twelvetrees), "Frankie and Johnnie" (1936, starring Helen Morgan), and "Frankie and Johnny" (1966, starring Elvis Presley), as well as a play by Terrence McNally, "Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune."
The song tells the story of a woman, Frankie, who finds her man "making love to" another woman and shoots him dead, is arrested, and in most versions is executed. The refrain common to most versions is: "He was her man, but he was doing her wrong." Many versions open with the quatrain: "Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts/Lordy, how they could love/They vowed to love one another/Underneath the stars above." A common conclusion is: "This story has no moral/This story has no end/This story only goes to show/That there ain't no good in men." Hughie Cannon, the composer of Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey, obtained a copyright on the melody in 1904 under the title He Done Me Wrong, but the song seems to predate this.
The story apparently refers to a murder with took place in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 19, 1899. 22-year-old dancer Frankie Baker stabbed (or shot) her 17-year-old lover Allen "Al" Britt, who was having a relationship with a woman named Alice Pryor. Britt died of his wounds two days later. On trial, Baker claimed that Britt had attacked her with a knife and that she acted in self-defense; she was acquitted and died in a Portland mental institution in 1950. Some researchers claim that the song was in circulation before the Baker murder, and that it dates from roughly the time of the Civil War. It may have originally referred to Frances Silver, who was executed in 1832 for the murder of her husband Charles Silver in Burke County, North Carolina.
The movie "A Prairie Home Companion" features a version of Frankie and Johnny. The last stanza is not sung in the movie, but it offers an excellent summary of the movie plot. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Sam Cooke had a top twenty hit with his cover of the traditional Frankie And Johnny in 1963. Below is a basic chord-melody arrangement. The melody notes on the first and third beat (in 4/4 time) are harmonized using the chords provided in the sheet music or lead sheet. The sheet music was transposed from the usual key of C to the key of G that was further transposed up an octave.
The song is essentially a twelve-bar blues progression played moderately in 4/4 time.