Ella Speed is an old, rag-timish folk song with four chords (one more than the traditional three chords). Ella Speed boasts a proper assortment of lyrics and story lines. The one I sing here is what I remember from the Leadbelly recording. I since looked up the lyrics and found a slew of different versions. For sure I left out a lot of verses. Like many folk songs it recounts an actual event – in this case the 1894 murder of a New Orléans prostitute, Ella Speed, by a jealous customer named Louis (Bull) Martin. As in all folk songs, there are embellishments and changes that just seem to happen over time; Louis (Bull) Martin, the supposed perpetrator, morphs into Bill Morgan the bartender in Leadbelly’s version, and concludes with “when the women heard that Ella Speed was dead they went home and re-ragged in red” – which puts an interesting twist to the whole story. We are fortunate that much of Leadbelly’s work has been preserved by the U.S. Library of Congress. Leadbelly was an absolute genius. In any case, getting back to Ella Speed, the bottom line (actually, the opening line) is for the pretty girls to “take heed”.
Another Old Song
Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey? or just plain Bill Bailey is a jazz favorite done by all the great singers over the years, and now by Bumba and Maybank. (click below) As opposed to Ella Speed, Bill Bailey is a written song, penned by Hughes Cannon in 1902.