Sing for one’s supper

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To sing for one’s supper means to perform a service in order to get a reward in return. The phrase sing for one’s supper has its roots in the European wandering minstrel, whose talent was telling stories and singing ballads. When a minstrel plied his trade in a tavern, he was paid for his trouble with a meal, or his supper. Presumably, a talented minstrel attracted a crowd for the tavern-keeper to ply with food and drink. The phrase sing for one’s supper is first recorded in print in the early 1600s. The idea of singing for one’s supper was popularized by the nursery rhyme, Little Tommy Tucker, first printed in the mid-1700s. “Little Tommy Tucker sings for his supper. What shall we give him? White bread and butter.” Today, the idiom is usually used in a figurative sense to mean perform a service in order to gain a reward. Related phrases are sings for one’s supper, sang for one’s supper, singing for one’s supper.


“Richard Kiley looked me in the eye and said: ‘Son, some day you will understand what it means not to have to sing for your supper.’” (The Villages News)

Politics in America means that you’d better be willing and able to sing for your supper even if you’ve avoided all the pitfalls and landmines that are out there. (The Californian)

“Ben was happy singing in pubs and you cannot knock that life, to be able to sing for your supper is a great life, you don’t have to be famous,” he said. (The Croydon Advertiser)

On the whole I sing for my supper as I want to be invited back. (The Telegraph)

David Beckham certainly sang for his supper when he was presented with a Legend of Football award at the HMV Football Extravaganza on behalf of music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins. (The Daily Mail)