I have always liked music about actual historical events.
I am reminded of them each year because I get daily emails about historical events from history.com.
You can sign up here: This Day In History (scroll down one screen, red button, right side).
Yesterday, I learned (again!) about Stagger Lee.
“Stagger Lee,” Lloyd Price, 1959
The song was first published in 1911 and first recorded in 1923 by Fred Warring’s Pennsylvanians.
Based on an actual murder on December 27, 1895, in a barroom in St. Louis, Missouri. There are been many renditions throughout the years, but the one by Lloyd Price made it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1959. Prior to Lloyd Price, the most famous version was “Stack O’ Lee Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt, recorded in 1928. Other versions that I am familiar with include those by Woody Guthrie, Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan, The Clash, and the Grateful Dead.
Under the headline “Shot in Curtis’s Place,” the story that ran in the next day’s edition of the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat began, “William Lyons, 25, colored, a levee hand… was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o’clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis… by Lee Sheldon, also colored.” According to the Globe-Democrat’s account, Billy Lyons and “Stag” Lee Sheldon “had been drinking and were in exuberant spirits” when an argument over “politics” boiled over, and Lyons “snatched Sheldon’s hat from his head.” While subsequent musical renditions of this story would depict the dispute as one over gambling, they would preserve the key detail of “Stag” Lee Sheldon’s headwear and of his matter-of-fact response to losing it: “Sheldon drew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen… When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away.”
Hmmmmm. An argument over politics. Things haven’t changed.