According to Nathan B. Young (founder of St. Louis American) the song (and movie) "Frankie and Johnny" was written after New York producers came to a local club and heard musician and piano player, Bill Dooley, singing about Frankie Baker & Albert Britt in his song "Frankie Killed Allen".
At 2:00 on the morning of October 15, 1899, Frankie Baker (1876 –1952), a 22-year-old woman, shot her 17-year-old lover and ragtime piano player, Allen ("Albert") Britt in the abdomen.
Britt had just returned from a cakewalk at a local dance hall (once located upstairs at Kram Fish Market), where he and another woman, Nelly Bly (also known as "Alice Pryor"; no relation to the pioneering reporter Nellie Bly), had won a prize in a slow-dancing contest. Britt died of his wounds four days later at the City Hospital. [Wikipedia]
Upstairs from the Kram Fish Market was the well known dance hall. [Photo Source: STL Today]
On trial, Baker claimed that Britt had attacked her with a knife
and that she acted in self-defense:
On Oct. 15, 1899, Allen Britt stumbled up the back staircase of a rooming house at 212 Targee Street, burst into girl friend Frankie Baker's apartment, threw an oil lamp and pulled a knife. She grabbed a .32-caliber pistol from beneath her pillow and fired a fatal shot. [Tim O'Neil, STLToday]
Frankie, with her lawyer, at the site of the murder on Targee Street. [PhotoSource: STL Today]
Frankie was acquitted and freed. Two years later when the song went mainstream she left St. Louis due to the notoriety. When over 250 versions were being made including Hollywood movies, she sued Republic Pictures for defamation and anguish but was unsuccessful. She died in a Portland, Oregon, mental institution in 1952.
Popular Musical Renditions:
Jimmie Rodgers (1929)
Duke Ellington (1946)
Sam Cooke (1963)
Starring Elvis Presley (1966)