Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Bruno, Franklin. “‘Stone Cold Dead in the Market’: Domestic Violence and Americanized Calypso.” Popular Music and Society 34 (February 2011): 7-21.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan’s 1945 recording of Stone Cold Dead in the Market, a reworked Barbadian folk song about an abused wife murdering her husband, was able to become a rhythm and blues hit in part because the Caribbean styling produced an exoticized cultural mask which allowed for frank portrayals of taboo subjects. The Barbadian folk song, usually known as Murder in the Market or Payne Dead, has been collected in several versions and was likely known in Trinidad by the 1910s. The first commercial recording of the song was made by calypso artist Wilmouth Houdini in 1939. Houdini’s version, called He Had It Coming, had modified lyrics aimed at an American audience, making it an early example of calypso crossover. Fitzgerald and Jordan’s Stone Cold Dead is a re-recording of He Had It Coming that changes the song in several ways to make it a more popular American hit. Fitzgerald and Jordan’s arrangement is faster than Houdini’s and includes instrumentation (muted trumpet, maracas, and claves) typical of post-war Americanized calypso and “Latin” music. They also modified the lyrical structure of the song, repeating the refrain and title line to create a verse-chorus structure with a clear melodic hook. Some lyrics were also changed to be in first-person perspective, and Fitzgerand and Jordan sing with affected West Indian accents. Several artists recorded cover versions of Stone Cold Dead, occasionally with nods to Houdini’s version or earlier folk variations. Although the song addresses the often-unspoken issue of domestic violence, it does so through stereotyping and exoticizing West Indian culture.

Works: Wilmouth Houdini: He Had It Coming (9-13); Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan: Stone Cold Dead in the Market (13-15); Betty Mays and Her Orchestra: Stone Cold Dead in the Market (He Had It Coming) (15); Grace Berrie: Stone Cold Dead in the Market (15-16); Alan Lomax: Stone Cold Dead in the Market (16); Maya Angelou: Stone Cold Dead in the Market (16).

Sources: Traditional: Murder in the Market / Payne Dead (9-13, 16); Wilmouth Houdini: He Had It Coming (13-15); Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan: Stone Cold Dead in the Market (15-16).

Index Classifications: 1900s, Popular

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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