"Billy Boy" by Luckey Roberts

Introduction and sheet music cover

Publicized as "the latest and greatest patriotic song dedicated to Col. William Hayward of the 15th New York Infantry", "Billy Boy" was composed in 1917 by Luckey Roberts, with lyrics by Lester A. Walton, and published by Walton Publishing Co. (New York).

It is a rare work by a then young Luckey Roberts, an upbeat march tune with a ballad flavor to it that sings about "our" pride in "Billy Boy". Roberts never recorded it, and the song has usually been credited as "traditional".

The story behind it:

The story of Col. Hayward goes like this (source: Parlor Songs website):

"Hayward was instrumental in organizing the first "colored" National Guard regiment (the New York 15th) in New York. Hayward was appointed to organize the unit in 1916 and recruiting began in June of that year. By April of 1917 the group reached "peace strength" and was recognized by the Federal government. Following that it was brought up to war strength. When they entered the war in 1918, the 15th became the US 369th. Led by Hayward, the 369th became known as the "Hell Fighters" and were awarded the Croix De Guerre for their bravery in September of 1918. Col. Hayward personally led his men into battle at Beallau wood and when a French officer called for a retreat, Hayward said; "My men never retire. They go forward, or they die!" Hayward was wounded and was cited for his personal bravery. The entire regiment was cited numerous times and many individuals earned medals for their bravery."

The lyrics:

1. Tommy Atkins is a warrior bold
Merrie England loves him more than gold
And to France the hero of today
is fighting in the trenches, miles away
Now Billy Boy, has gane across the sea
to help them in their fight for Liberty.

CHORUS [sung twice after each verse]
Billy Boy, Billy Boy
you’re a soldier of renown
Billy Boy, Billy Boy
in a uniform of brown
What a grand old sight
As you battle for the right
Billy Boy, Billy Boy
with a heart so fond and true
for the Red, White and Blue,
you are loyal thro’ and thro’
you put the “Brave” in Bravery
you are my pride and joy
Now let the bugle blow,
come on come on let’s go
“Atta” boy my Billy Boy.
Billy Boy.

2. There is Russia with a mighty host,
Of her sturdy cossacks she can boast
And for valor no one can forget
those fearless Belgian lads who’re
fighting yet Now Billy Boy, its put right up to you
to help them win so show what you can do.

Newspaper clipping:

The Baltimore Afro-American, August 25, 1917:

8 comentarios:

  1. Great heartfelt lyrics -- "you put the 'Brave' in 'Bravery'"! A wonderful find! Let's get someone to play it, straight then striding. Onward to vistory in swing tempo! Cheers, Michael

  2. De Juan José González:


  3. Gracias, Juanjo. Una gozada de información.

  4. From Riccardo Scivales:

    "Great to know that "Billy Boy"--usually and erroneously credited as a traditional tune--is another of Luckey Roberts's originals!"

  5. From Robert Weis:

    "The first thing I heard was that Lucky Roberts liked to screw off people in Billiard. A couple of months later I listend to his record the first time.
    At that moment I knew that Billiard just was his hobby :-)"

  6. Jazz scholar Brian Priestley asked me if this "Billy Boy" was the folk-tune (credited as traditional) recorded by Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis or Red Garland, among others. After hearing a midi-file of the Luckey Roberts' tune, we came to the conclusion (of course, as expected) that these are two different tunes.
    Now I'm trying to compile and list all the recordings of Luckey Roberts's "Billy Boy"... if there's any.
    Any help is much appreciated.
    Best regards,

  7. Jazz Profiles / Friday, May 29, 2015
    Red Garland: Graceful and Bluesy
    © -Steven Cerra There was a club named Luckey's [Rendezvous], owned by Luckey Rob­erts, and it was just for piano players - no bass or drums allowed. There's where we'd separate the men from the boys, when you can't lean on the bass or drums. Art Tatum was a frequent visitor there, and I'd stand over his shoulder to watch what he was doing. One night he stood behind me as I was playing. ‘You're forcing,’ he told me. ‘You're forcing. Don't play the piano. Let the piano play itself.’ I was tight, so he gave me that piece of advice, and I've always remembered it. He gave me some arpeggios to work on, too, and I'm still working on them. http://jazzprofiles.blogspot.com/2015/05/red-garland-graceful-and-bluesy-from.html

  8. Does not Nat Hentoff mention in his liner notes to the GTJ album, Luckey and the Lion, that Red Garland was a frequent visitor at Luckey's Rendevous ?.