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Baby Won't You Please Come Home (1919)

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Origin and Chart Information
“You understand I never stole anything. That’s the way the music business worked in those days. If you couldn’t get a piece of the copyright, it didn’t pay to publish it.”

- Clarence Williams

Rank 205
Words and Music Charles Warfield
Clarence Williams

Clarence Williams was not only a pianist who accompanied many of the blues singers such as Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, and his wife Eva Taylor on their recordings, but he led his own band which occasionally included Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet.


More on Clarence Williams at JazzBiographies.com

He was also an astute business man, a music publisher, and an entrepreneur whose credits as a composer have often come into question. “Williams dominated the blues industry in the 1920s....[His] name is on many good songs, usually sharing credit with a better songwriter....Williams seems to have been the leading proponent of the cut-in, the composer quid for the publisher quo,” say David A. Jasen and Gene Jones in their book Spreadin’ Rhythm Around: Black Popular Songwriters, 1880-1930.

Jasen and Jones go on to say, “The unknowns and the masters all struck their bargains with Williams for the same reason: he would publish their songs and then plug them every way to Sunday. His genius was for promotion, not composition.” They describe his collaborations as sounding like the style of the collaborator and say that the songs for which he took full credit were the least interesting. “Was he a chameleon who took on the musical colors of his collaborators? Most likely he was a fixer-upper, someone who could supply a synonym to fix up a lyric and could supply a coda or a turnaround to fix up a tune.”

Clarence is credited on “Royal Garden Blues” (a top jazz standard written with Spencer Williams), “Squeeze Me” (for which Andy Razaf claimed lyric credit), “West End Blues” (a Joe Oliver tune for which Williams later took credit as co-writer), and “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” (which Louis Armstrong claimed to have written).

Jasen and Jones quote Clarence Williams himself in their book: “‘You understand I never stole anything. That’s the way the music business worked in those days. If you couldn’t get a piece of the copyright, it didn’t pay to publish it. Songwriters understood that putting the publisher’s name on it, along with his own, was part of the original deal.’ Williams did not originate “the original idea.” And, as the authors point out, no one ever sued Williams, and they continued to work with him. Williams published the sheet music for “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home?” in 1923 with the picture of his wife, singer Eva Taylor (who had recorded it in 1922), on the cover.

Charles Warfield was a pianist and composer. His “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” written with David Young in 1914 preceded the more popular composition of the same name by Spencer Williams and Dave Peyton (1915.)

The authorship of “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home?” is also disputed. According to Jasen and Jones, “Charles Warfield, the Chicago pianist who claimed to have been cheated out of ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody’ by Spencer Williams, said that he wrote ‘Baby Won’t You Please Come Home?’ Warfield’s name is on the song along with Williams’, so he must have sold it--however cheaply--to the publisher.”

“Baby Won’t You Please Come Home?” charted three times over a period of nine years:

  • Bessie Smith (1923, with the Down Home Boys and Clarence Smith, four weeks peaking at #6)
  • Clarence Williams’ Blue Five (1928, two weeks peaking at #13)
  • The Mills Brothers (1932, one week peaking at #20)

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

“Baby Won’t You Please Come Home?” is the title cut of a Clarence Williams collection, His 25 Greatest Hits 1923-1933, on which the pianist is also featured on vocals and jug with an all-star lineup that includes Red Allen, Louis Armstrong, Buster Bailey, Sidney Bechet, Wilbur De Paris, Eddie Lang, King Oliver, Don Redman, Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, and Eva Taylor among others.

Kay Starr waxed the song in 1955, Danish jazz vocalist Karin Krog recorded it in the late ‘60s, and the song is featured by Gloria Shannon on Mojo Mamas (2000), a collection of Chicago blues singers. Wynton Marsalis recorded it in 1998, and it is the title cut of the 2005 release by the trad jazz group Redwine Trio. A wide variety of artists have recorded the tune: the Stan Kenton band, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, drummers Chico Hamilton and Tito Puento, and pianist Jessica Williams.

More information on this tune...

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages

(Hischak includes in his encyclopedia the song’s history, its performers, and films in which it has appeared.)

- Sandra Burlingame

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