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Stagolee Shot Billyby Cecil Brown
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"To analyze the legend, Mr. Brown draws on structuralist and formalist thinkers such as Mikhail Baktin, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Vladimir Propp...But where another scholar might explicate a few symbols and call it a day, Brown has pursued the tale to its origins--a bar fight in St. Louis in 1895, during which a saloonkeeper named Lee Shelton shot William Lyons when a friendly game of cards went wrong." Scott McLemee, Chronicle of Higher Education
"With commendable scholarship and thoroughness, Brown shows how we got from the murder to the myth." Leopold Froehlich, Playboy
"Thoroughly researched, fast moving, and well written, this is the first book to unearth the basis of the Stagolee legend (others mostly deal with its social implications) and will appeal to those interested in understanding American cultural history." Dave Szatmary, Library Journal
"Brown's reconstruction of the bordello culture in St. Louis is reminiscent of fin de siecle Vienna, portraying a kind of hysteria that played out on the stage and in the streets." Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"By surrounding the Stagolee figure in a constellation of ways, as part of folklore, music history, literary scholarship and culture studies, with a supporting cast of writers and scholars whose words are given fair and generous use, Brown puts on a good postmodern show." Jason Berry, New York Times Book Review
"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 come to expect from Cecil Brown." Ishmael Reed,
"The amount of artistry the book documents — touching all Americans but focusing on the African-American contribution, or wellspring — is formidable and awe-inspiring." Taj Mahal
"Stagolee ranks 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." David L. Smith, Williams College
"An infinitely fascinating exploration of nearly all facets of the Stagolee ballad, the archetype, the countless tales surrounding both, and their passage through time." Greil Marcus
"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." David R. Roediger, University of Illinois
Cecil Brown examines how the legend of Stack Lee grew as a story in itself. Drawing upon the works of Baldwin, Wright, and Ellison, Brown describes the powerful influence of a legend bigger than literature, whose transformation reflects changing views of black musical forms, and African-Americans' altered attitudes toward black male identity, gender, and police brutality.
Delving into the subculture of St. Louis and the work of Ralph Ellison, Brown describes the powerful influence of a legend bigger than literature, whose transformation reflects changing views of black musical forms. 12 illustrations.
Delving into a subculture of St. Louis known as "Deep Morgan", Cecil Brown emerges with the facts behind the legend of the mystery of Stack Lee and the incident that led to murder in 1895. How the legend grew is a story in itself, which Brown tracks through variants of the song "Stack Lee".
Includes bibliographical references (p. 231-285) and index.
About the Author
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Table of Contents
Introduction: The Tradition of Stagolee
I. STAGOLEE AND ST. LOUIS
1. Stagolee Shot Billy
II. THE THOUSAND FACES OF STAGOLEE
12. Jim Crow and Oral Narrative
III. MAMMY-MADE: STAGOLEE AND AMERICAN IDENTITY
24. The "Bad Nigger" Trope in American Literature
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