“Stone Cold Dead in the Market”: Domestic Violence and Americanized Calypso

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Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan's recording of “Stone Cold Dead in the Market” was a major R&B and pop hit in 1946. In narrating a woman's murder of her abusive husband from a sympathetic first-person point of view, the recording's depiction of domestic violence raises the question of how it achieved mass popularity in a cultural milieu that discouraged frank discussion of this topic. This paper attempts to account for this popularity by tracing the musical and lyrical changes between the hit recording and its sources, the Caribbean folk ballad “Payne Dead”/“Murder in the Market” and calypso performer Wilmouth Houdini's 1939 adaptation “He Had It Coming,” and by arguing that Fitzgerald and Jordan's adoption of an exoticized West African accent, as well as their public personae, effectively produced a comic and ethnic “mask” from behind which the song's subject matter could be presented with relative frankness.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2011.539807

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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