Stagger Lee

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Joseph Wingate Folk
Governor Joseph "Holy Joe" Wingate Folk
Democrat 1905–09

1900 - 1910

1903. Earliest known transcription of lyrics from Memphis but reportedly first heard in Colorado in 1899 or 1900.

1903. Another transcription of lyrics to the Ballad of Stackerlee. Sung from the perspective of a St. Louis prostitute working for him as her pimp.

The song spreads like a game of Chinese Whispers across the South as musicians hear it and play it back from memory with their own embellishments. The Stag Lee of the song is hung for the murder, sent off with an elaborate funeral, kicks the Devil from his throne and takes over Hell.

1909, Thanksgiving. Lee Shelton released from prison, pardoned by governor Joseph Wingate Folk.

1910, February. Miss Ella Fisher of Texas sends John Lomax, a pioneering musicologist and folklorist, 8 stanzas of The Ballad of Stagalee. She writes to him, “This song is sung by the Negroes on the levee while they are loading and unloading the river freighters.”

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