"Don't die the death of Ella Speed"

I recently started working on a song from Mance Lipscomb's repertoire, a little number called "Ella Speed."  It's a classic blues song with a familiar blues theme about murder, and in this case the murder of a prostitute, named Ella Speed.  In my never ending research into the origin and background of songs, I discovered the story that follows; 

Ella Speed was the 28 year old wife of Willie Speed and a mother of two children.  Ella was a prostitute referred to as an "octoroon" (a person who is one-eighth black by descent) by her "landlady" and sent to Louis "Bull" Martin, a 28 year old bachelor of Italian descent who worked as a bartender at the Dryades Street Market in New Orleans.

Ella and Louis quickly formed a "special relationship" - in fact it appeared Louis became obsessed  with her.  When he discovered that Ella had special relationships with other men he was enraged.  Miss Lou Prout, Ella's "landlady at the time asked Ella to leave because of Louis' frequent threats and behavior.

On August  14th, 1894 Louis had severely beaten an "old colored man" named Sam Johnson at the Dryades Street Market.  He was awaiting trial for his heinous crime, when on the morning of Sept 3rd at about 9:30 a.m. he shot Ella Speed with a Harrington and Richardson 0.38 caliber pistol in her upstairs room in the house kept by Miss Pauline Jones at 137 Customhouse Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  Ella died shortly afterwards, sprawled on the floor near the door to her room.

An unsuccessful manhunt for Louis was mounted, who turned himself into the authorities the next morning.  At his trial, Louis claimed the shooting was an accident.  He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 20years hard labor at the state penitentiary by Judge John H. Ferguson.  By 1901, Louis was back at his old bartender's job.

for more reading about the death of Ella Speed go to; WeenieCampbell.com

 

Doug

 

 

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