Friday, July 21, 2006

100 years ago: Bert Williams hit #1 with “Nobody”


Bert Williams

Writer(s): Bert Williams (music), Alex Rogers (lyrics) (see lyrics here)

First Charted: July 14, 1906

Peak: 19 US, 7 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 0.15 US

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.17 video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Bert Williams composed this song with lyrics by Alex Rogers. Williams first performed the song with his vaudeville partner George Walker in in February 1906 for the Broadway production Abyssinia. WK The show sought to shoot down stereotypes about black men, embodying the struggles they both endured at a time when Blacks were openly disenfranchised. WK Williams made history when he performed the song in in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1910. His appearance marked the first time an African American performed alongside whites in a major Broadway musical production. TY2

It is “a doleful and ironic composition, replete with his dry observational wit, and is complemented by Williams’ intimate, half-spoken singing style.” WK The lyrics are about “a person who doesn’t do anything for anybody…because nobody does anything…for him.” TY2 They perfectly fit the stage character Williams created who was “a small-time, somewhat pathetic but also comic creation.” DJ He performed it “in a slow mournful style that made people laugh.” TY2

“Nobody” became his signature song. He was so identified with it that he “was obliged to sing it in almost every appearance for the rest of his life.” WK As he said, “Month after month I tried to drop it and sing something new, but I could get nothing to replace it, and the audiences seemed to want nothing else. Every comedian at some point in his life learns to curse the particular stunt of his that was most popular.” TY2

The first charted appearance of the song, however, was not by Williams. Arthur Collins hit the charts in October 1905 with a version that reached #2. It wasn’t until July of the next year that Williams charted with it, going all the way to the top and staying there for nine weeks. In 1913, he re-recorded the song and that version got to #4.

Bob Hope performed the song in the 1955 movie musical The Seven Little Foys. The song was revived in 1976 by Avon Long in the Broadway revue Bubbling Brown Sugar. It has also been recorded and/or performed by Carol Burnett, Johnny Cash, Perry Como, Ry Cooder, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Dean, Red Foley, the Four Lads, Nina Simone, Merle Travis, and even Gonzo on The Muppet Show. WK


First posted 12/9/2022.

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