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Stagolee Shot Billy

Stagolee Shot Billy

by Cecil BrownCecil Brown


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Although his story has been told countless times—by performers from Ma Rainey, Cab Calloway, and the Isley Brothers to Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, and Taj Mahal—no one seems to know who Stagolee really is. Stack Lee? Stagger Lee? He has gone by all these names in the ballad that has kept his exploits before us for over a century. Delving into a subculture of St. Louis known as "Deep Morgan," Cecil Brown emerges with the facts behind the legend to unfold the mystery of Stack Lee and the incident that led to murder in 1895.

How the legend grew is a story in itself, and Brown tracks it through variants of the song "Stack Lee"—from early ragtime versions of the '20s, to Mississippi John Hurt's rendition in the '30s, to John Lomax's 1940s prison versions, to interpretations by Lloyd Price, James Brown, and Wilson Pickett, right up to the hip-hop renderings of the '90s. Drawing upon the works of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison, Brown describes the powerful influence of a legend bigger than literature, one whose transformation reflects changing views of black musical forms, and African Americans' altered attitudes toward black male identity, gender, and police brutality. This book takes you to the heart of America, into the soul and circumstances of a legend that has conveyed a painful and elusive truth about our culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674016262
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 09/30/2004
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Cecil Brown is the author of The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger and Days Without Weather. He is a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Tradition of Stagolee


1. Stagolee Shot Billy

2. Lee Shelton: The Man behind the Myth

3. That Bad Pimp of Old St. Louis: The Oral Poetry of the Late 1890s

4. "Poor Billy Lyons"

5. Narrative Events and Narrated Events

6. Stagolee and Politics

7. Under the Lid: The Underside of the Political Struggle

8. The Black Social Clubs

9. Hats and Nicknames: Symbolic Values

10. Ragtime and Stagolee

11. The Blues and Stagolee


12. Jim Crow and Oral Narrative

13. Riverboat Rouster and Mean Mate

14. Work Camps, Hoboes, and Shack Bully Hollers

15. William Marion Reedy's White Outlaw

16. Cowboy Stagolee and Hillbilly Blues

17. Blueswomen: Stagolee Did Them Wrong

18. Bluesmen and Black Bad Man

19. On the Trail of Sinful Stagolee

20. Stagolee in a World Full of Trouble

21. From Rhythm and Blues to Rock and Roll: "I Heard My Bulldog Bark"

22. The Toast: Bad Black Hero of the Black Revolution

23. Folklore/Poplore: Bob Dylan's Stagolee


24. The "Bad Nigger" Trope in American Literature

25. James Baldwin's "Staggerlee Wonders"

26. Stagolee as Cultural and Political Hero

27. Stagolee and Modernism




What People are Saying About This

Greil Marcus

An infinitely fascinating exploration of nearly all facets of the Stagolee ballad, the archetype, the countless tales surrounding both, and their passage through time.

Ishmael Reed

Hip-hop scholarship has become an overcrowded industry, yet few have delved into the roots of this international phenomenon. Cecil Brown traces the roots of the black-gangster aesthetic to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century bad-nigger ballads, the most prominent of which was 'Stagolee.' This outstanding scholarship is marked by the unique analytical approach that we have conic to expect from Cecil Brown.

Taj Mahal

This book sings like the sound beneath the song within the song about the song. Telling it like it 't - i - is! Like a literary griot (gree-oh !), Cecil Brown transfers this longenduring African-American song from oral tradition to the printed page. Along the way, lie places the song in the context of the times from which it sprang. The amount of artistry the book documents--touching all Americans but focusing on the African-American contribution, or wellspring-is formidable and awe-inspiring.

David L. Smith

Stagolee tanks among the most important figures in African-American folklore--the quintessential bad man' in black folklore. Brown makes a very compelling case linking Stagolee to the historical figure named Lee Shelton."
— Williams College

David R. Roediger

The story which went into the song, and the story of the song, required a big storyteller, willing to train on the fly in lots of disciplines, to do detective work, to make judgments, and to make startling connections. Brown writes learnedly and passionately on Stagolee and political infighting in a very particular St. Lotus time and place, as well as on hip-hop and long traditions of what Walter Benjamin called the 'destructive character.
— University of Illinois

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