‘Delia’s Gone . . .’

Who was Delia?

Her name was Delia Green. Here’s part of what Wikipedia has to say about her:

Delia Green (1886 – December 25, 1900) was a 14-year-old African-American murder victim who has been identified as the likely inspiration for several well-known traditional American songs, usually known by the titles “Delia” and “Delia’s Gone.”

According to contemporaneous reports published in Georgia newspapers, Green was shot by 15-year-old Mose (or Moses) Houston late on Christmas Eve, 1900, in the Yamacraw neighborhood of Savannah, Georgia, and died at 3:00 a.m. on Christmas Day. Houston, the newspapers implied, had been involved in a sexual relationship with Green for several months. The shooting took place at the home of Willie West, who chased down Houston after the shooting and turned him over to the city police.

Green’s murder and Houston’s trial in the spring of 1901 were reported in the Savannah Morning News and the Savannah Evening Press. Although Houston reportedly had confessed to the murder at the time of his arrest, at his trial he claimed the shooting was accidental. Other witnesses, however, testified that Houston had become angry after Green called him ‘a son of a bitch.”

Green was buried in an unmarked grave in Laurel Grove Cemetery South in Savannah.

The earliest recorded version of any of the songs inspired by Green’s fate is listed at Second Hand Songs as “Delhia,” a 1939 Decca recording by Jimmie Gordon and His Vip Vop Band. I wouldn’t be startled if there were earlier recordings. (Wikipedia notes that 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.)

Johnny Cash recorded “Delia’s Gone” in 1962 for the album The Sound Of Johnny Cash and re-recorded the song in 1993 for the album American Recordings. Here’s how he told the tale the second time:

Delia, oh, Delia
Delia all my life
If I hadn’t shot poor Delia
I’d have had her for my wife
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

I went up to Memphis
And I met Delia there
Found her in her parlor
And I tied her to her chair
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

She was low-down and trifling
And she was cold and mean
Kind of evil make me want to
Grab my sub-machine
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

First time I shot her
I shot her in the side
Hard to watch her suffer
But with the second shot she died
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

But jailer, oh, jailer
Jailer, I can’t sleep
’Cause all around my bedside
I hear the patter of Delia’s feet
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

So if your woman’s devilish
You can let her run
Or you can bring her down and do her
Like Delia got done
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone
Delia’s gone, one more round
Delia’s gone

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