From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Britt, Allen [Frankie and Johnny]

(born: 1882  -  died: 1899) 

Allen Britt was born in Kentucky, according to his death certificate. It is believed that he is the character referred to as Johnny in the popular song Frankie and Johnny. The song, composed by Bill Dooley, was originally titled Frankie and Al (or Albert) until Britt's father became enraged that his son's name was being used in the song, so the name Johnny was used instead.

Allen Britt was a piano player who was shot on October 15, 1899, and died a few days later at the City Hospital in St. Louis, MO. He is buried in an unmarked grave in St. Peter's Cemetery in St. Louis. Britt was shot by his girlfriend, Frankie Baker (1876-1952), after the two got into a fight.

Britt's name is also given as Albert in some sources. He was the son of George and Nancy Britt (both from Tennessee). The family had moved to St. Louis in 1891. The couple had had four children, according to the 1910 U.S. Census, but none of the children were alive in 1910.

Frankie Baker, born in St. Louis, was acquitted of shooting Allen Britt, after which she left St. Louis, eventually settling in Portland, OR, where she shined shoes for a living in a shoe shine parlor she owned.

Frankie Baker had two unsuccessful lawsuits, one against Mae West and Paramount Pictures for the use of her name in the film She Done Him Wrong, and in 1938, she sued Republic Pictures for their 1936 film Frankie and Johnny. After Baker lost the suit, Republic Pictures claimed ownership of the story.

Frankie Baker became sick later in life and also suffered from mental illness. She was placed in the East Oregon Hospital, where she died.

Frankie Baker's and Allen Britt's families did not benefit from the popularity of the story "Frankie and Johnny." The tale has been sung on commercial phonograph recordings; and presented in plays, minstrels, literature, newspaper articles, poems, paintings, ballets, movies, and many other mediums.

For more see Hoecakes, Hambone, and All that Jazz, by R. M. Nolen; Body and Soul, by P. Stanfield; The Devil's Music, by G. Oakley; and Frankie and Johnny, by S. I. Morgan.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

References

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: She done him wrong (videorecording)
NKAA Source: Hoecakes, hambone, and all that jazz : African American traditions in Missouri
NKAA Source: Body and soul : jazz and blues in American film, 1927-63
NKAA Source: The Devil's music : a history of the blues
NKAA Source: Frankie and Johnny : race, gender, and the work of African American folklore in 1930s America

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Britt, Allen [Frankie and Johnny],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed November 26, 2020, https://ukscrc001.net/nkaa/items/show/2234.

Last modified: 2020-08-21 21:07:22