Friday, October 16, 2015

Frankie was a good girl.

Frankie was a good girl.

Frankie Baker was not a prostitute and she didn't run a brothel.

And here we go again, ruining long-held myths for hundreds of elderly blues music fans.

Over the years, St. Louis' American music legends have turned blue.
Staggerlee has been recast as a pimp and Frankie Baker of the song Frankie And Johnnie has been described as a prostitute although neither characterization is true to the historical facts.

Frankie Baker who shot her lover Johnny, was a proper lady and her virtue had nothing to do with the story.

But that's the how the stories were altered as they became popular over the last century.
I don't know why that happened.
It seems some people just want their folk legends to be in the sex trade.

The song lyrics were quite clear about her, Frankie was a good girl. Ev'rybody knowed.
Yet over the years, other versions have mistreated and defamed our city's famous femme fatale of American balladry.

The popular song, (and folktale, movie, play and ballet,) dramatized the blues of a fallen woman mistreated by a no-good man.

Poor Frankie tried to move on with her life after the court found her innocent of murder.

She hoped the insults would stop but they didn't. So she moved out of town.
And then she moved to Oregon.
Nearly 40 years later, poor and aged, Frankie went to the courts again and sued (twice) to clear herself of the accusation of a, woman of unchaste character, a harlot, an adulteress, a person of lewd character.

 Baker contended that she was a respectable woman although she was being described as a, woman of easy virtue, and as a murderess in the consort of gamblers and notorious criminals.

She said that the public portrayal of her caused, scandal, infamy, shame and disgrace, and that the legend held her up as an, object of hatred, ridicule, shame and contempt.

Establishing that she was not a tramp was her only wish.

Frankie was betrayed first by her boyfriend and then in the St. Louis courthouse.

Tyrrell Williams, the Dean of Washington University's law school said that Frankie could not be harmed because the song was not about her. He testified under oath that he thought that maybe there might be an older "Frankie" song.
There is no evidence, no proof of that older song, but he said he had read about it.

Then in 1988, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, our hometown newspaper, characterized our hometown heroine as an opportunist trying to swindle money from Hollywood,
…Frankie Baker, went to the movie and saw green. She sued the movie company in 1938, complaining that it hadn't paid her a dime for what she called her story.

And as recently as 2013, St. Louis blues fans continued to slander her by writing that,
Baker ran a boarding house that probably, like many of the houses in the neighborhood, included a brothel.

Baker didn't have a boarding house.
Her occupation was not listed as Sporting as the prostitutes were called, it was Domestic, meaning she was a maid or a laundress.

One of her neighbors testified that, Frankie was a nice girl and behaved herself like a lady, and another said, There weren’t any sporting people lived there.

In the defamation trial, no one accused Frankie of immorality.
The defense was not arguing Frankie’s virtue, they sought to prove that the song wasn't about this Frankie Baker.

So now, after more than 100 years, the shaming of Frankie Baker needs to end.
And if righting this wrong ruins the song for some people, well then so be it.
She was not a courtesan, cyprian, or soiled dove and she didn't run a bawdy house of immoral purpose.
Poor Frankie was a good girl and everybody knowed.

For trustworthy information, Tim O'Neil is another very careful researcher and writer. 
His Look Back series at stltoday is always very good.