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Blues History MailbagQ: I’ve read “I Stagolee” and I’d like to know how accurate it is to the real story?
Thanks, Dianne.  

The Staggerlee legend has been sung, recorded and published by people from all over the world, and recently there have been a couple of additions to the myth of Staggerlee. Staggerlee’s factual basis has never been completely unearthed and the only research in St Louis was done as a local university thesis, the author of which passed away some years ago. The uncopyrighted manuscript apparently was up for grabs and grabbed it was.

Neither of two recent books offer insight into the reason for the senseless murder of Billy Lyons by Stack Lee, but they do invent senseless love stories, mobster and racial dramas. The truth is far from either of these versions.

In the recent comic book, the author made many mistakes by not knowing and not researching St Louis history beyond reading the unpublished thesis. He changed the race of a very important man in the true story thus creating an entirely twisted reality that is more like a made-for-TV movie that usually has the “any similarity to persons real or imagined is entirely coincedental” tag in the beginning credits.
The other book is another in a series of Cecil Brown’s creations. He’s built a mini-career out of his musings on the Stagger Lee subject using his theory that Stag Lee Shelton was a pimp. That wouldn’t be a problem because that’s what mythology and legends are all about, but Brown sells his books as factual non-fiction and as with the other book, very little research was done by the author. Brown's romanticized concept of a Superfly pimp is nonsensical in turn of the century St Louis. There is nothing in the historical record or evidence that proves that presumption.

The mystery of why Shelton shot Lyons is not solved in these publications. Still a mystery is the real reason why the men fought - the two men were not gambling as the majority of the songs about it suppose. Why was Lyons was killed? - he was just as bad of a badman, if not more so, than Shelton. Why did the story of that incident became a song that continues to be popular to this day when there were other murders in the city that night, none of which are remembered?


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