His best known composition was the popular song Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey. He wrote the song at the age of sixteen and this ragtime song was published in 1902. Many renditions of this song were done by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Marion Montgomery and Bobby Darin.
The first singer of this song was Blackface John Queen a contemporary of Hughie Cannon. The song was an instant hit. Another greatly popular song was his Frankie and Johnny published in 1904.
Cannon wrote a featured song 'I love the Two Steps (With my Man)' for a New York Theatre show 'Mrs. Black in Back' that opened in 1904, ending with seventy nine performances. Mrs. Black was played by the renowned May Irwin, who appeared in one of Thomas Edison's earliest productions, "The Kiss."
Cannon also wrote music for "A Venetian Romance" at the Knickerbocker Theater.
Cannon is buried in Connellsville, Pa., where he mother lived. His mother, Mae Cannon Robbins, was in show business and played the role of "Little Trixie" in a production that toured the nation for several years in the late 1800s. By the time her son became a well-known composer she was managing a theater in Connellsville with the help of her third husband Fred Robbins. Not much is known about his father, John Cannon.
Not long before his death, Cannon told a Detroit newspaper that he sold the rights to most of his songs. In a letter to his mother he lamented "the songs I once had."
He told the same newspaper that while he used drugs it was booze that was the hardest to kick. Married briefly to Emma Dorsam and divorced, he died penniless.
Cannon's other songs include "For Lawdy Sakes, Feed My Dog," "I Hates To Get Up Early In The Morning", "Frankie and Johnny", "Possum Pie", "Just Because She Made Dem Goo-Goo Eyes" and "You Needn't Come Home."
Music scholar Peter Muir called the latter song "truly remarkable for 1901" because both its chorus and verse are a 12-bar arrangement. "In terms of popular songs at the turn of the century, he enterprise, to the best of my knowledge, is quite unique."
Thornton Hagert (founder of Vernacular Music Research), in 1971, noted Cannon's use of a 12-bar structure. "A few" of Cannon's better known songs, Hagert found, "are very close to the classic blues structure."
Two years after "Bill Bailey" swept the nation, Cannon composed a tune called "He Done Me Wrong." This "death of Bill Bailey" tune is sad, Muir noting "a powerful ambivalence often found in the blues."
Muir argued that Cannon's "music represents in its way the birth of commercial blues in American culture."
After a short, sometimes brilliant career, Cannon died at the age of 35 at the Lucas County, Ohio, Infirmary. The official cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver.