Learn a Fun and Fruitful Ukulele Arrangement of “I Ain’t Got Nobody”


Written in 1915 by Spencer Williams with lyrics by Roger Graham, “I Ain’t Got Nobody” was first recorded by banjo ukulele player Marion Harris in 1916. I searched out as many versions of the catchy tune as I could find and came across great interpretations by the likes of blues singer Bessie Smith, ukulele wizard Roy Smeck, jazz icon Louis Armstrong, and R&B legend Stevie Wonder, in addition to a more obscure but incredible recording on the Library of Congress website that blues singer-guitarist Hattie Ellis performed for folklorists John and Ruby Lomax in 1939. And then there’s perhaps the most famous version of all, the “I Ain’t Got Nobody/Just a Gigolo” medley that trumpeter-singer Louis Prima recorded in 1956.

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This ukulele arrangement combines the bluesy, orchestral feel of the original Harris recording with the spirit of the Smith version. While the musicians on the Smith recording played tenor banjo, clarinet, and piano, they used a very similar treatment as the orchestra on the original. My arrangement—comprising a four-bar intro, followed by the song’s 32-bar AABA form—is designed to be versatile. You can sing it and strum along or play it as a chord-melody style instrumental arrangement. 


In measure 3, you’ll find what I call a “learn it today and use it forever” kind of lick. It can be used for many blues and jazz tunes to beautifully punctuate the ending of a line. Since the lick is found throughout, firm it up before learning the rest of the song; this will make things easier.  

In the rest of the arrangement, there are some jazzy harmonic moves at play. The chromatic chord run in measure 6 adds punch to the simple D7–E7 chord change between bars 5 and 7. With four strings on a ukulele, it also sounds appealingly piano-like. Similarly, the B section (bars 21–28) offers a great example of holding down chord shapes with your first three fingers and using your fourth to play the melody notes. 

Once you’re familiar with the whole arrangement, you can syncopate the chords and melody for more variations. You can strum and sing the first time through, and create an instrumental solo on a repetition of the form, adding more variation by fingerpicking the solo and highlighting the melody note in each chord. The possibilities are endless.

Music by Spencer Williams, lyrics by Roger Graham

"I Ain't Got Nobody" ukulele music notation arrangement by Marcy Marxer sheet 1/2
"I Ain't Got Nobody" ukulele music notation arrangement by Marcy Marxer sheet 2/2