Informant: “I really love that song, Frankie and Johnny it goes. I will sing it for you (recites the lyrics in a sing song voice): Frankie and Johnny were lovers / Lordy could they love / They swore to be true to each other / Just as true as the stars above / He was her man, but she was doin’ him wrong (laughs)”
The informant learned this tune from her mother, who sang the song, much to her teacher and class’s shock, at a show and tell during elementary school. The informant notes the similarity between this song and the story of Bonnie and Clyde, and hypothesizes that there is a connection between the two.
This was recorded during a conversation at the informant’s home in San Diego, CA.
When the informant sang this song and mentioned that it was inappropriate for an elementary school show and tell, I decided to do further research into other verses or variants on the same verse because the lines she remembered didn’t seem to point at anything particularly inappropriate (I figured “doin’ him wrong” must have a sort of sexual implication). Sure enough, I was able to find much longer versions of the song, which described the story of Frankie shooting Johnny after she found him sleeping with another woman. Interestingly, because the act of sleeping with another is ostensibly what the informant meant by “doin’ him wrong,” the two different versions have the roles of each character reversed. In the version I was able to find, the line is “doing her wrong,” implying that Frankie found Johnny sleeping with another woman, whereas in the informant’s version, the line is “doin’ him wrong,” which would suggest the opposite: that Johnny discovered Frankie sleeping with another man.
For an alternative version of this song, see Lyon College’s Wolf Folklore Collection:
“Frankie and Johnny.” Wolf Folklore Collection, edited by John Quincy Wolf, Jr., Lyon College, web.lyon.edu/wolfcollection/songs/andersonfrankie1257.html. Accessed 24 Apr. 2019.