“Saint James Infirmary”

Alternate titles: “Old Time Gambler's Song”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1925 (Scarborough)
Keywords: disease death funeral drink
Found in: US(SE,So,SW)


Big Joe McKennedy is in the bar, reporting that he "went down to St. James Infirmary, And I saw my baby there, Stretched out on a long white table...." He gambled, and now must pay. He prepares to die, makes requests for his funeral, (blames the woman)


Many early jazz & popular recordings attribute authorship (of the popular version) to "Joe Primrose," a pseudonym for Irving Mills. His copyright, though, seems to have been registered in 1929, or after Armstrong's influential recording. Presumably he was registering ownership rather than authorship. - PJS

Cross references



  1. Scarborough-NegroFS, p. 94, "How Sad Was the Death of my Sweetheart" (1 short text, with few of the familiar words but the correct plot and the "Let her go, let her go" chorus)
  2. Sandburg, pp. 228-231, "Those Gambler's Blues" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  3. Thorp/Fife XIII, pp. 148-190 (29-30), "Cow Boy's Lament" (22 texts, 7 tunes, the "N" text being in fact a version of this piece)
  4. Darling-NAS, pp. 9-10, "Gambler's Blues" (1 text)
  5. Silber-FSWB, p. 76, "St. James Infirmary" (1 text)
  6. DT 350, STJAME
  7. Roud #2 (!)
  8. BI, San228