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"Ain't Nobody's Business" (originally "Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness if I Do") is a 1920s blues song that became one of the first blues standards.[1] It was published in 1922 by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins.[1] The song features a lyrical theme of freedom of choiceand a vaudeville jazz-style musical arrangement.[2] As "'Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness if I Do", it was first recorded in 1922 by Anna Meyers with the Original Memphis Five.[3]

Recordings by other classic female blues singers, including Sara MartinAlberta Hunter, and Bessie Smith soon followed.[1][3] In 1947, the song was revived by jump blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon as "Ain't Nobody's Business".[4] It became the biggest selling race recordof 1949[5] and inspired numerous adaptations of the song.[1] In 2011, Witherspoon's rendition was inducted into the Blues FoundationHall of Fame as a "Classic of Blues Recording".[4]

Composition and lyricsEdit

"'Tain't Nobody's Bus'ness If I Do"

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by Sara Martin with Fats Waller on piano (1922)

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The early versions of "Ain't Nobody's Business" feature vocals with piano and sometimes horn accompaniment. They are performed as moderate tempo blues and have an extended sixteen-bar introduction:[2]

There ain't nothin' I can do nor nothin' I can say, that folks don't criticize me
But I'm gonna do just as I want to anyway, I don't care if they all depise me

The remaining verses are eight-bars in length, with the first four providing a situation, such as "If I go to church on Sunday, then cabaret on Monday", and the last four concluding with the refrain "Tain't nobody's biz-ness if I do".[2]

The formal layout with its introduction and eight-bar verses is redolent of the thirty-two bar American Popular Song Form, albeit it lacks the typical bridge. Actually a bridge was added by The Ink Spots in their 1936 recording of the song. The eight-bar chord scheme of Ain't Nobody's Business was a model for subsequent 'bluesy' Tin Pan Alley songs and R&B ballads in AABA form. [6]

The music and lyrics are usually credited to two pianists – Porter Grainger, who had been Bessie Smith's accompanist from 1924 to 1928, and Everett Robbins, who had his own bands and worked briefly with Mamie Smith.[1][2][3][4] However, sometimes Clarence Williams, who played piano on Bessie Smith's recording, is listed as a co-author of the song.[7]BMI, the performing rights organization, lists Grainger, Williams, Witherspoon, and Robert Prince.[8] Since the original lyrics were copyrighted in 1922, they are now in the public domain.[9](See External links.)

Recording and releasesEdit

1923 record label listing "Bessie Smith – Clarence Wiliamsat the piano"

Anna Meyers recorded "'Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness if I Do" on October 19, 1922, in New York City.[10] For the recording, she was backed by the Original Memphis Five.[10] The song was released as a ten-inch 78 rpm single on Pathé Actuelle for the US market by the French-based Pathé Records. Other early recordings include those by Sara Martin (with Fats Waller on piano) (December 1, 1922, OKeh 8043), Alberta Hunter (February 1923, Paramount 12016), and Bessie Smith (April 26, 1923, Columbia 3898). In Smith's version, the lyrics also deal with an abusive partner:

I'd rather my man would hit me, than to jump right up and quit me ...
I swear I won't call no copper, if I'm beat up by my papa
Tain't nobody's business if I do

In 1928, a country blues rendition was recorded by Memphis, Tennessee, singer-guitarist Frank Stokes.[1] His finger-style acoustic guitar version uses a simple I-IV-V chord progression and different lyrics and, including the refrain "It ain't nobody's business but mine".

In the post-World War II blues era, jump blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon revived the song as "Ain't Nobody's Business".[4] His two-part rendition uses some new lyrics:

Some of these days I'm goin' crazy, buy me a shotgun and shoot my baby
Ain't nobody's business if I do

He performed it in the West Coast blues-style with understated backing by piano, guitar, bass, drums, and a three-piece horn section.[5] The song was recorded in Los Angeles on November 15, 1947, but was not released by Supreme Records until September 1948.[5] It entered the record chart on March 5, 1949, and reached number one.[11] Witherspoon's song was the biggest selling race/R&B record of 1949.[5]

Recognition and influenceEdit

In 2011, Witherspoon's "Ain't Nobody's Business" was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.[4] According to the Foundation, "its message continued to resonate, as borne out by the remarkable success of Witherspoon's two-part rendition, which remained on the Billboard 'race records' charts for 34 weeks. It was rated No. 3 in all-time chart longevity in Joel Whitburn's Top R&B Singles 1942–1988."[4]

His rendition also inspired numerous artists to record adaptations of the song,[1] usually with variations in the music and lyrics. Some of these include:[12ArdisEric ClaptonSam CookeMary CoughlanBillie HolidayMississippi John HurtB.B. KingFreddie KingWillie NelsonDiana Ross (for the film Lady Sings the Blues), Otis SpannTaj MahalSusan Tedeschi, and Dinah Washington. A version by Hank Williams, Jr. peaked at number 15 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in 1990.[13]

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