Buy Stagolee Shot Billy by Cecil Brown 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.

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Taj Mahal - Berkeley, California, (London, England), 2002, and 1988 Toast - New York, 1967 Bob Dylan - Los Angeles, 1993 Dave Van Ronk - New York City, 1966 Papa Harvey Hull and the Down Home Boys - Memphis, Tenn., 1927 Unidentified Negro convict - Arkansas, Gould, 1934 Duke Ellington - Washington DC, 1929 Stagger Lee&, Nick Cave - Melbourne, Australia, 1997 Fruit Jar Guzzlers - North Carolina, 1927 Lucious Curtis - Mississippi, Natchez, Oct. 19, 1940 Bill hunt and Frank Hutchinson - West Virginia, 1927 Ma Rainey - Georgia, 1927 Hogman Maxey - Louisiana, 1959. Angola State Penitentiary Mississippi John Hurt - Mississippi, 1927 Sidney Bechet - New Orleans, 1934 Lomax, Pianist, (700 AFC) - New Orleans, 1937 Buena Flynn, female inmate - Florida, Raiford., may, 1936 The Clash - London, England Bully of the Town, Sid Harkreader and Grady Moore - St. Louis, 1895 Albert Jackson, convict - Alabama, State Farm Prison Oct 1937 Furry Lewis - Mississippi, 1928 Lloyd Price - New Orleans, 1959 Bama, a Black convict - Parchmen Prison Farm, Mississippi, 1947

“Bully of the Town,” Sid Harkreader & Grady Moore - St. Louis, 1895
Papa Harvey Hull and the Down Home Boys - Memphis, Tenn., 1927
Fruit Jar Guzzlers - North Carolina, 1927
Ma Rainey - Georgia, 1927
Bill hunt and Frank Hutchinson - West Virginia, 1927
Mississippi John Hurt - Mississippi, 1927
Furry Lewis - Mississippi, 1928
Duke Ellington - Washington, D.C., 1929
Unidentified Negro convict - Arkansas, Gould, 1934
Sidney Bechet - New Orleans, 1934
Buena Flynn, female inmate - Florida, Raiford., may, 1936
Albert Jackson, convict - Alabama, State Farm Prison., Oct. 1937
Lomax, Pianist, (700 AFC) - New Orleans, 1937
Lucious Curtis - Mississippi, Natchez, Oct. 19, 1940
“Bama”, a Black convict - Parchman Prison Farm, Mississippi, 1947
Hogman Maxey - Louisiana, 1959. Angola State Penitentiary
Lloyd Price - New Orleans, 1959
Dave Van Ronk - New York City, 1966
Toast - New York, 1967
Bob Dylan - Los Angeles, 1993
Taj Mahal - Berkeley, California, (London, England), 2002, and 1988
“Stagger Lee”, Nick Cave - Melbourne, Australia, 1997
The Clash - London, England

Harvard University Press
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Hip-Hop Comes To Berkeley

See Cecil Brown's independent film, THE "TWO-FER" now playing in the Black International Cinema 2003 film festival in Berlin (May 8 - 11), Düsseldorf (May 22 - 25), Vienna (May 30 - June 4) and Ljubljana (June 11 - 15).

Director: Cecil Brown
Color, 41 min.
U.S.A. 2003

Synopsis: Calvin Hunter, 35, and his wife leave Detroit, Michigan and travel across the U.S.A. to Montclair, a rich neighborhood in San Francisco. Calvin is expecting to settle into his new job with ease. A black man in a film department? No easy task. The department is looking for a "two-fer." After learning that the hiring Chairman of the faculty is partial to women, Calvin decides to put on a dress and compete with women in the academic world. The film reaches its climax when the Chairman finally discovers Calvin's charade. Calvin deftly outwits them all in a financially rewarding exit from Montclair.

“The Two-Fer” - A DV short by Cecil Brown
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Download Resume

Cecil Brown began his education at A & T College, Greensboro. He has a B.A. from Columbia University in Comparative Literature, a M. A. in English from the University of Chicago, a Ph.D. from U C Berkeley in Narrative, African-American Literature, and Folklore.

Cecil Brown in Person:

Thursday, May 8th
Booksmith - San Francisco, 7:00 p.m. 1644 Haight st.
(415) 863 8688

Saturday, May 24th
Marcus Books - Oakland, 6:30 p.m. 3900 Martin Luther King st

Thursday, June 26th Codyıs - Telegraph Ave, Berkeley

"Where's the magician?"

When I was about fourteen, we moved to the Green Swamp, North Carolina, to a tract of land where my father farmed. My grand daddy, Poppa Cecil, had bought a lot of land cheaply because it was submerged under water.

I had a mule named Big Red and I had to plow him before and after school. I was bored until I discovered the mail catalogue. From the mail, I became a magician. At school, I drew attention to myself by performing at the PTA, or either before or after regular meetings of the student body. In front of the whole student body, we would put on this trick in which I would hypnotize my assistant, James Randell. It was well known that James Randell was a genius, but that he was a wall flower. Today he is an English professor at Coe College.

But after I hypnotized Randell, he would perform all of our popular dances -the jerk, the monkey, the Madison. The student would howl, especially because he danced incredibly well under my spell, but when I took the spell off him, he couldn't dance at all.

I did other tricks too. I disappeared smoking cigarettes, produced rabbits from a hat, and read serial numbers from dollar bills held up across the room. But the funniest thing that happened to me was a trip with our basketball team to Farmer's Union high school. I was always looking for a place to perform, so it turned out that I would do my trips during the half time at the basket ball games at our school.

So when the basketball team went to Farmer's Union High school, I got invited along. Instead of a college band (too poor to have a band), the basketball team had a magician-me.

As we pulled into the yard, we could see the fine looking Framer's Union girls waiting for the team. In our world, Farmer's Union women were mythically beautiful. They were different from our girls because they were mixed with Native Americans, specific Cherokee. They had nice faces and big, big legs.

I was the last to come off the bus. When I came off I noticed that all of our boys were standing around looking down in the mouth, and all these Farmer's Union girls were coming to me. They say, "Where's the magician! Are you the magician?"

I started doing my magic right then and there. The basketball team just stood around, while I got all of the attention.

I remember how different it felt to perform for people who didn't know me personally. All the other times, at my high school, everybody knew that it was me, Morris, "the Swamp Rabbit, who was the magician. Now these girls wanted to see me but didn't really know me (or care), but because I was the magician." I had a name outside my own personal world.

When I became a senior in high school, I abandon my role as high school magician, because I thought it was unbecoming of a scholar. I got to the point that I was embarrassed to be asked to do tricks.

But that feeling of having a "public" never left me. And I'll never forget the looks on those brothers' faces either. They were shocked (as I was too) that the girls ran past them and to me, crying for "the magician."

Additional books by Cecil Brown
Days Without Weather
The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger
Coming Up Down Home: A Memoir of a Southern Childhood

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The New York Times - The Story Behind a Mythic Blues Ballad
"Stagolee is looking at the world, but he is not visible; these facts account both for his 'hidden' social history and for the persistence of the myth, for Stagolee is antimyth, the discontinuous, the speech act, and the blues aesthetic," Brown writes, "extending from the steamboat to the electronic age in the American 21st century." - .. FULL STORY
- Jason Berry
(The New York Times, 4 / 27 / 2003)

Playboy Magazine
In a St. Louis tavern on Christmas night in 1896 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, 3 / 6 / 2003)

The Chronicle of Higher Education
His name is usually given as Stagolee, though sometimes it's Stagger Lee, or Stack O'Lee. Like other details, it varies, depending on who sings or recites the tale. But everyone agrees that he was one hard character. When Billy Lyons disrespected Stagolee by touching his fine Stetson hat, there was hell to pay. "Oh please spare my life/I got two little babies and an innocent wife!" pleaded Billy. It didn't matter: Stagolee shot him dead anyway.

"Growing up in North Carolina in the late l 950s, I heard the story from my uncles and thought it was something that happened in our area," says Cecil Brown, a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley. In Stagolee Shot Billy, to be published next month by Harvard University Press, Mr. 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. The Stagolee "toasts" (rhymed oral performances) that Mr. Brown heard from his uncles were a precursor of hip-hop. The legend also left its mark on generations of African-American writers, from Richard Wright to Mr. Brown himself. His best-selling The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger, published in 1969, was a picaresque novel a la Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, infused with a Black Power sensibility.
- Scott McLemee
(Chronical of Higher Education, 3 / 14 / 2003)

Library Journal
Novelist and professor Brown (African American Studies, Berkeley; The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger) delves into the historical and social underpinnings of 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 in December 1895 and Shelton's subsequent trial and imprisonment. He links the incident to a swirl of corrupt St. Louis politics embodied in violent and warring social clubs that controlled bootlegging, gambling, and a flourishing prostitution trade. Brown continues with the evolution and transmission of the Stagolee tale through the oral African American tradition and ragtime, blues and rock'n'roll, showing the transformation of the myth to suit the purposes and social settings of the narrators. In a final section, the author explorers the persistence of the Stagolee persona in American literature, 1960's radical black politics, and rap music. Thoroughly researched, fast moving, and well written, this is the first book to unearth the basis of Stagolee legend (others mostly deal with its social implications) and will appeal to those interested in understanding American cultural history.
- Dave Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
(Library Journal, 3 / 15 / 2003)

The Guardian (UK)
Godfather of Gangsta
In the red-light district of St Louis in 1895, a pimp shot a man dead in an argument over a hat. The ballad telling the story has been recorded by hundreds of bluesmen and jazzers - and even the Clash. It also helped create modern-day rap. Cecil Brown tells the remarkable tale of Stagolee.
- Charles English, Editor
Thursday May 08 2003

The Los Angeles Times
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.

"Stagolee," writes Brown, "is a metaphor that structures the life of black males from childhood to maturity." He compares the "bad black hero" to PuffDaddy, O.J. Simpson, Malcolm X, Huey Newton (for all their differences). He traces the transformation of the song from ballad to blues, from pool hall to riverboat to work camp to Broadway. 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" -- with an embroidered picture of his favorite girl on the headband -- 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 siecle Vienna, portraying a kind of hysteria that played out on the stage and in the streets.
- LA Times
Buy Days Without Weather by Cecil Brown Buy The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger by Cecil Brown Buy Coming Up Down Home by Cecil Brown Email Cecil Brown