Bye Bye Blackbird

1926© Music by Ray Henderson and Lyrics by Mort Dixon

Mort Dixon        * New York City, NY Mar 20, 1892
† Bronxville, NY Mar 23, 1956
Ray Henderson * New York City, NY Aug 21, 1895
† Miami, CA Dec 20, 1979

Here is the story as it was related to Don Ferguson by Mae Arnotte.
It was about twenty-five years ago in a neighborhood diner called “Charlie’s” on Columbus Ave in Boston that I met Ms. Arnotte. She was seated next to me as I was sharing some musical story lines with a friend. Somehow or other Bye Bye Blackbirds came up and I couldn’t fit a story line to this song. Mae Arnotte was a lady of some “note” in the Boston area and performed in many of the local jazz clubs. She told me that as a young girl in her 20’s, among “o song was originally performed as a slow blues number, a lament. According to Mae, the song was Bye Bye BlackbirdS, plural, and directed at the “group.” The “lady” was going home to her Mother (Where somebody waits for me, sugar’s sweet, so is SHE). No one here can love or understand me, oh the hard luck stories they all hand me, (the Johns). “I’ll be home late tonight” indicates that she lived a short distance from Chicago.
There is no way I can verify this “story.” I called the holders of the copyright and since the writers are now deceased, they found it interesting but couldn’t say either way if it was true or not.
Joe Leach told Ferguson, “my father told me the song was about a person leaving New York City under about the same circumstances that Mae told you. Except he said “Blackbird” was an old nickname for the city.

Lyrics:
Verse:
Blackbird blackbird singing the blues all day
Right outside of my door
Blackbird blackbird who do you sit and say
There’s no sunshine in store
All thru the winter you hung around
Now I begin to feel homeward bound
Blackbird blackbird gotta be on my way
Where there’s sunshine galore.
Chorus:
Pack up all my care and woe,
Here I go singing low
Bye bye blackbird.
Where somebody waits for me,
Sugar’s sweet so is she
Bye bye blackbird.
No one here can love and understand me
Oh what hard luck stories they all hand me.
Make my bed and light the light,
I’ll arrive late tonight
Blackbird bye bye.
Verse:
Bluebird, bluebird, calling me far away
I’ve been longing for you.
Bluebird, bluebird, what do I hear you say?
Skies are turning to blue, I’m like a flower that’s fading here,
Where ev’ry hour is one long tear.
Bluebird, bluebird this is my lucky day.
Now my dreams will come true.

Eddie Cantor, Carmen McCrae, Frank Sinatra and others who have recorded “Bye Bye Blackbird” have only sung the chorus:

Pack up all my care and woe,
Here I go singing low:
Bye, bye, blackbird

The verses of the 1926 song written by Ray Henderson (melody) and Mort Dixon (lyrics) are far less known. Here is the first of the two “missing” verses:

Blackbird, blackbird singing the blues all day
Right outside of my door.
Blackbird, blackbird why do you sit and say
There’s no sunshine in store?
All through the winter you hung around.
Now I begin to feel homeward bound.
Blackbird, blackbird gotta be on my way
Where there’s sunshine galore.

So there’s no slavery symbolism here, especially considering the song was written in 1926 by two white guys. But is the blackbird just a black bird?
No. The lyrics were written with heavy-handed symbolism and can be interpreted pretty easily. A Boston area jazz singer popular in the ’30s and ’40s named Mae Arnotte claims the song was originally performed as a slow blues number and used the phrase “Bye Bye Blackbirds.” Supposedly, the singer was leaving the big city: “No one here can love or understand me, oh, the hard luck stories they all hand me.” The “they” she refers to are the blackbirds or johns in the big city. Then the singer was going home to her mother: “Where somebody waits for me, sugar’s sweet, so is she.” “I’ll be home late tonight” supposedly indicates she lived a short distance from the big city.
Whoever the singer is, he/she is tired of whatever they’ve left home for and want to make a prodigal return, referred to in the second verse:

Bluebird, bluebird, calling me far away
I’ve been longing for you.
Bluebird, bluebird, what do I hear you say?
Skies are turning to blue, I’m like a flower that’s fading here,
Where ev’ry hour is one long tear.
Bluebird, bluebird this is my lucky day.
Now my dreams will come true.

So there are really two birds in the song. The color of the birds symbolizes the singer’s feelings about leaving the big city for home. The blackbird stands for the hopeless days of no sunshine while the bluebird represents clear skies and hope. Source: www.straightdope.com