Music and Lyrics Analysis
Speculation has surrounded the meaning of the “lost” verses of “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Vocalists generally sing only the chorus which begins “Pack up all my care and woe, Here I go singing low....” Two websites offer similar explanations of the meaning of the verses:
The first verse concerns a blackbird outside the window singing the blues and saying, “There’s no sunshine in store.” The listener feels the urge to return home, expressed in the chorus as “where someone waits for me.” In the second verse the listener hears a bluebird saying, “Skies are turning blue.” The listener reacts by saying, “I’m like a flower that’s fading here, Where ev’ry hour is one long tear.”
The story told by Chicago singer Mae Arnotte was that the song is about a “lady” fed up with the city and the “blackbirds” or “johns” and wanting to return home to her mother. And another version based on the same story explained that the “blackbirds” referred to the city of New York.
Both verses are sung on the soundtrack of The History Boys. The song has appeared in other films, such as Sleepless in Seattle where it was sung by Joe Cocker. Lou Rawls sang it on the Muppet show, and it’s been the title of a book and a 2005 movie. It’s been recorded by numerous jazz artists, including vocalists Nina Simone, Mel Torme, and Ella Fitzgerald, trumpeter Miles Davis, pianist Keith Jarrett, harmonica player Toots Thielemans, and saxophonist John Coltrane who won the 1981 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist for his rendition.
- Sandra Burlingame