DELIA’S GONE

Posted on Posted in Breedloves's Folk Songs

DELIA’S GONE

Delia Green, a fourteen-year-old African-American murder victim, has been identified as
the likely inspiration for several well-known traditional American songs, usually known
by the titles “Delia” and “Delia’s Gone.” Songs based on Green’s murder became both
common and popular in the next few decades. In 1928, folklorist Robert Winslow Gordon
reported to the Library of Congress that he had traced the songs back to a murder in
Savannah, and that he had interviewed both Green’s mother and the police officer who
took Houston into custody. Gordon’s research was never published, however, and Green’s
relationship to the popular songs was essentially unknown until John Garst, working from
hints left by Gordon, turned up the details in Savannah newspaper archives.
The songs inspired by Green’s short life and murder now split into two forms, both
staples of the “folk revival” of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. One version, usually attributed
to Blake Alphonso Higgs (the calypso singer also known as “Blind Blake”), is known as
“Delia’s Gone,” and is explicitly told from her killer’s point of view. “Delia’s Gone” was
prominently covered by Pete Seeger and, twice, by Johnny Cash. In the music video for
Cash’s second recording, Delia is played by Kate Moss. The second version, generally
attributed to Blind Willie McTell, is usually known as “Delia,” and is told from a more
ambiguous point of view. Among the many singers who have covered “Delia” are Bob
Dylan and David Bromberg.
Tony shot his Delia one Christmas night
first time he shot her
she hung her head an’ died
one more round – Delia’s gone
one more round – Delia’s gone
sent for the doctor, doctor come too late
sent for the minister to lay out Delia straight
one more round – Delia’s gone
one more round – Delia’s gone
Delia, oh Delia, where ya been so long?
everybody’s talkin’ ’bout ya
now you’re dead an’ gone
one more round – Delia’s gone
one more round – Delia’s gone