- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; 49471st edition (September 30, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674016262
- ISBN-13: 978-0674016262
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,453,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Stagolee Shot Billy 49471st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
In "Stagolee," one of history's best-known blues songs, a dispute between Billy Lyons and a "bad man" called Stagolee ends in a shooting; variations of the ballad have been recorded by hundreds of musicians, from Mississippi John Hurt and Champion Jack Dupree to Peggy Lee, Ike and Tina Turner, Bob Dylan and Nick Cave. But for all the song's incarnations, little is known definitively about its origins: Who was Stagolee-or Stacker Lee, or Stack-o-lee? Scholar and author Brown (The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger) sets out to answer that question by presenting Lee Shelton, a.k.a. "Stack Lee," a pimp who shot Billy Lyons in a barroom in 1895; probing the seamy St. Louis milieu that served as the murder's backdrop; and tracing the song's history through the decades-from the eight stanzas sent to music archivist John Lomax in 1910, through 1920s white "hillbilly" versions and 1940s prison renditions and up to its influence on present-day rap music. Yet the book is more than a musical history; it considers "Stagolee as a black oral narrative and the rich relationship it reveals between oral literature and social life." Brown addresses the legend's place in an evolving African-American consciousness and draws upon the works of luminaries like Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison (he skillfully employs Freud, Levi-Strauss and Walter Benjamin as well). Brown's tone at times becomes dry and academic, and his occasional generalizations are jarring in such an otherwise thoughtful work. The book is intelligent and illuminating-and a smattering of illustrations livens it up-but it will likely be of more interest to serious musicologists and historians than casual blues fans.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
In Stagolee Shot Billy...Brown revisits the archetypal story of 'someone who was willing to defend himself if transgressed against, if his dignity was at stake.' Songs about Stagolee have long been a staple of African-American music, with recordings by Ma Rainey, Duke Ellington, and Fats Domino...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 2003-03-14)
In a St. Louis tavern on Christmas night in 1895 Lee Shelton (a pimp also known as Stack Lee) killed William Lyons in a fight over a hat. There were other murders that night, but this one became the stuff of legend. Songs based on the event soon spread out of whorehouses and ragtime dives across the country. Within 40 years, Stagolee had evolved into a folk hero, a symbol of rebellion for black American males. With commendable scholarship and thoroughness, Brown shows how we got from the murder to the myth. (Leopold Froehlich Playboy 2003-03-06)
Novelist and professor Brown...delves into the historical and social underpinnings of the Stagolee myth, which has inspired numerous songs and shaped American culture. Tracing the source of the legend, he describes in detail the shooting and killing of bully Billy Lyons by flashy pimp Lee Shelton (a.k.a. Stagolee) for snatching his hat in a St. Louis bar...and Shelton's subsequent trial and imprisonment. He links the incident to the swirl of corrupt St. Louis politics embodied in violent and warring black social clubs that controlled bootlegging, gambling, and a flourishing prostitution trade...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 2003-03-15)
You don't have to know the ballad about Stagolee, the black anti-hero who shot and killed his old friend Billy over a hat in a bar one Christmas night in 1895 in Deep Morgan, the vice district of St. Louis, to enjoy Cecil Brown's telling of the story behind the song...Brown, who grew up on the myth in the 1950s and 60s on a tobacco farm in North Carolina, reconstructs the very night when Lee Shelton dressed like a pimp in St. Louis flats and a "high-roller, milk-white Stetson"...wandered into the Bill Curtis Saloon in the Bloody Third District. Brown's reconstruction of the bordello culture in St. Louis is reminiscent of fin de siècle Vienna, portraying a kind of hysteria that played out on the stage and in the streets. (Susan Salter Reynolds Los Angeles Times Book Review 2003-03-23)
In Stagolee Shot Billy, the novelist Cecil Brown tracks the history of the song "as a black oral narrative and the rich relationship it reveals between oral literature and social life." Along the way he has a lot to say about how music functions as a form of memory, advancing through the popular culture...Brown's industrious research begins at the primal event...In his reconstruction of the legal events that sent Shelton to jail, Brown shows how the black Tenderloin district functioned in white ward-heeling politics of the day...Brown also trains his lens on Stagolee as a mythical presence in literature...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 2003-04-27)
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)
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 long-enduring African-American song from oral tradition to the printed page. Along the way, he 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. (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. Louis 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)
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Unfortunately, when he tries to create some revolutionary political character to the song and a view of "the lumpen" which we all thought was safely buried when the Black Panthers became Democratic party ward heelers and sellers of codd pieces, Brown falls flat on his face.
There is no way to transcend the dominant culture except through politics. Stagolee, the lumpen as he preaches them, do not represent any new vision or revolutionary spirit of suffering African Americans, much less our struggle to liberate ourselves, but quite the opposite. They represent a group that even more than the average working person strives to achieve and obtain the goals and values of this corrupt and exploitative society. Rather, than some threat, they are quite useful to those who wish to retain power and vice versa.
What is also interesting is how, contrary to the life styles, Wall street morals, and Washington manners of the real lumpen like Stagolee, the song and the legend were given other clothing by Black working people, farmers, youth, prisoners, struggling for a way out of the racist hell hole of Jim Crow. Instead of a man who never found problems being "bad" and mean to African Americans, and never found much problems with the police, Stagolee is converted into the opposite. The more heroic the song and the image of Stagolee becomes, the more divorced from the reality of who he real was, and what the social scum he came from really represents.
That's the real political and social lesson in what Brown explains of the reality of the Stagolee story. The actual Stagolee was a pimp and hustler who exploited the bodies of Black women. His major interest came in his political pimping for the Democratic party whose task at the time was nothing less than the overthrow of whatever gains remained from Reconstruction and the establishment of Jim Crow segregation throughout the South and beyond. His antagonism with Billy Lyons was rooted in Lyon's attachment to a rival gang of pimps and thugs who preyed on Black people under the auspices of the Republican party.
The murder actually did reach its point after Lyon's alledged disrespect of the hat, an adoption by the lumpen of the ruling class's views that things are more important than people.
Rather than being seen as a challenge to White society, Stagolee was defended by the top lawyer in St. Louis. Even after he was convicted of murder, Stag served only a year or so before being released due to the influence of his friends in the Democratic party. In fact, Brown explains that Stagolee went on to murder another African American, was again convicted of a minimal sentence, and was in prison about to be released early again thanks to the Democrats of Missouri, when he died.
Despite, Brown's silly attempt to claim that the lumpen, or the image is some kind of revolutionary threat to dominance, the behaviors of pimps, theives, drug dealers, and other "lumpen" are if anything an extreme version of the dominant society's worst values. The basic idea is that getting money, having wealth, and using violence and ignoring the solidarity of Black people and other working folks is the road to power. That is nothing less than the thinking that the Rockefellers, the Duponts, the Bushes, and the Kerry's use to justify their exploitation of the rest of us and their barbaric wars against the peoples of the world!
As someone who was quite active in the civil rights and Black power movements, and knew and worked with leaders of the Black panthers in the Bay area and around the country, I never saw much of a response from this layer of the black community to the struggle on any level. On the other hand group composed mainly of African American students and workers like the BPP did ten to be taken in by these attitudes distracted from and turned away from the struggle and diverted into unprincipled deals with the the cops and the politicians, alcoholism, disrespect for women, thuggery against working people and students, drug addiction, and drug dealing, and receive rather serious blows against their ability to struggle for liberation.
In regard to the editorial questions raised previously, I think we are facing a crisis in publishing, even with academic publishing houses, publishing works like this by an academic. This is not the first book that I written on TODAY, where editorial misconduct and confusion is such that mistakes that take not an expert, but a normally literate person should be able to eliminate abound. The press to publish, the press to sell books, to get a book out quick and without too many resources, the tight budgets, and emphasis on promotion and sales and not quality that are more and more at the center of the publishing industry today is devouring the quality of non-fiction books as sources.
Brown can't be blamed for that. In this regard, he is the victim
This book is a very intriguing story, telling the story of both characters, the conditions of the town they lived in for this particular period in history--the late 1800s, and not that long after the Civil War had ended.
Over all, I would not recommend this book to someone who is looking for a good story. If you are looking for something informative, or are interested in learning how stories spread and change in time, then this book is for you. Or if you are just interested in some St. Louis history, this would work. It is required reading for a class I am taking.