Parallel Anthology Track 19

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Icon Unknown Status.jpg Track 19: Frank Hutchison - Stackalee   Okeh 45106; Recorded in New York, 28.1.1927


Anthology Track 19 label.jpg
Record label assigns authorship to "Hutchison" as does Harry Smith's Anthology booklet. www.78discography.com does not assign authorship.


According to wikipedia, Frank Hutchison died in 1945, which would put this composition in copyright until 1st January 2016.


However, according to the Where Dead Voices Gather blog:

Like the legend of John Henry, the story of Stackalee (a.k.a. Stackolee, Stack-O-Lee, or Stagger Lee) is believed to be based on historical fact. Lee Shelton was an African American cab driver and pimp who was convicted of the murder of William Lyons on December 24, 1895 in St. Louis, Missouri.

[...]

This seemingly unremarkable act of drunken violence was immortalized in song shortly after the incident, making Shelton an archetype of the violent but streetwise black man. The Stagger Lee family of songs has become among the most sung and recorded American songs.

[...]

Some folklorists, however, claim that the song predates the 1895 shooting and that Lee Shelton's nickname (Stag) derived from the song, and not the other way around.


According to wikipedia:

A song called "Stack-a-Lee" was first mentioned in 1897, in the Kansas City Leavenworth Herald, as being performed by "Prof. Charlie Lee, the piano thumper." The earliest versions were likely field hollers and other work songs performed by African-American laborers, and were well known along the lower Mississippi River by 1910. That year, musicologist John Lomax received a partial transcription of the song, and in 1911 two versions were published in the Journal of American Folklore by the sociologist and historian Howard W. Odum.

The song was first recorded by Waring's Pennsylvanians in 1923, and became a hit. Another version was recorded later that year by Frank Westphal & His Regal Novelty Orchestra, and Herb Wiedoeft and his band recorded the song in 1924. Also in 1924, the first version with lyrics was recorded, as "Skeeg-a-Lee Blues", by Lovie Austin. Ma Rainey recorded the song the following year, with Louis Armstrong on cornet, and a notable version was recorded by Frank Hutchison in 1927.


The Roud Folk Song Index classifies this song as a version of Roud 4183, and also lists a version from 1910 collected by Alan Lomax.


This version from 1926 by Ma Rainey (credited to "Jasper Taylor-Williams" on www.78discography.com) has some similarities in both lyrics and melody to the Hutchison version.


According to the Old Weird America blog:

Stackalee is, along with John Henry, the most important figure in afro-american oral traditions, one of the most persistent too, his legend being present in almost every new stage of developement of afro-american music in the 20th century. In a way he is the opposite of John Henry, his negative side, surely a “bad” man, with all the clichés of violence, gambling, booze and women surrounding him, but nevertheless became a “hero” for the black community, a symbol of resistance against white supremacy and racism.


All of the above provides some grounds for doubting Hutchison's claim to authorship, and may be a basis for treating this composition as public domain.


Parallel anthology main index page


Alternative Versions

Stack-O-Lee by The Fruit Jar Guzzlers    recorded in 1928 (according to www.78discography.com): YouTube
 
No claim to authorship/arrangement on record label
Stagolee by Cisco Houston    recorded in 1954 (according to www.folkways.si.edu): Spotify
 
Liner notes treat this song as traditional.
Skeeg-a-Lee Blues by Lovie Austin    recorded in 1924 (according to wikipedia): Spotify