Let her go, let her go, God bless her...
June 11, 2004 11:50 AM   Subscribe

The story of "St. James Infirmary." You thought it was a piece of old New Orleans? Turns out St. James Hospital was in London (and treated lepers), and the song goes back at least to the 18th century (though it used to be sung to the tune of "Streets of Laredo"). Rob Walker's Letter From New Orleans #13 describes the results of his obsessive researches. If you have more info, he wants to hear from you! (Via Wordorigins, a site any word lover should know.)
posted by languagehat (9 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Recording of St. James Infirmary, for those who haven't heard it. It's a very fun tune. Thank you much, languagehat!
posted by weston at 3:34 PM on June 11, 2004

Hat, I kiss you! May the glorious light of Turkmenbashi shine upon you and your issue for one thousand years.
posted by mwhybark at 4:11 PM on June 11, 2004

Wow. I always thought that was a Louisiana thing. And I'm from just outside of New Orleans. Thanks, languagehat!
posted by ColdChef at 4:16 PM on June 11, 2004

Turns out St. James Hospital was in London

Still, the last time I requested it at Preservation Hall it sounded good!

On a tangent:
Norwegian leprosarium, 1411-1976 (the 18th c. buildings now a museum).
Global Project on the History of Leprosy.

posted by Zurishaddai at 4:22 PM on June 11, 2004

The histories of Casey Jones, Frankie and Johnny and Stagolee have been traced, such as can be, as well.
posted by y2karl at 4:46 PM on June 11, 2004

That place in New Orleans you're thinking of must be the House of the Rising Sun. Although this says that despite the song's first line, that name also originally comes from two old(e) English songs.
posted by LeLiLo at 5:29 PM on June 11, 2004

One of my all-time favorites (I love Danny Barker's version, which I heard many times in person), and a great mystery quest! I'm getting homesick.
posted by taz at 4:27 AM on June 12, 2004

Maybe it's because I'm English, but the thought that this could be an 'American' song never even entered my head. I suppose it is probably because of the whole Louis Armstrong thing...
posted by tapeguy at 4:31 AM on June 12, 2004

Great post! Thanks, languagehat.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:25 AM on June 13, 2004

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