The Murder of Leo Frank, 100 years ago this week.

There's quite a few Jewish people involved in the study and performance of American old time musical traditions. As it happens, I'm one of them. I could do literally hundreds of essays about the curious nature of this strange truth, which I found to be not limited to the American experience but actually happens world wide; Jews seem to be at the vanguard of nearly every great cultural output around the globe. 

Well, yes, um, nearly every one save their own Yiddish culture it seems. Rather than address that confusing conundrum, I chose rather to focus on a dark chapter of Southern American history that I hope would bring context to this disconnect in a way that would have some resonance, and maybe give my fellow claw-hammer banjo slinging Hebrews a new lens with which to view their place in the narrative that created the "old time" music so many of us have participated in for so long.

Years ago I was reading a article on Georgia Fiddle styles. I was genuinely shocked when I came across an aside about the influential and media savvy fiddler John Carson, where it was reported that he would serenade the crowds gathered outside of the Atlanta Courthouse during the Leo Frank trial , composing songs designed to whip up the anti-Semitic sentiments of the crowd, including a little ditty sung by the assembled "Hang the Little Jew."


"Wonder how many folks know that story?" I thought to myself. So I looked up the YouTube video for John Carsons' "Little Mary Phagan," where I made the mistake of reading the comments section. 

OK, right. So here we are 100 years after the fact and nearly NO Jewish person I know knows literally anything about it, yet rage filled bigots are all over the interwebs using the the event as if happened last week and proves every evil narrative against the Jews that you could possibly imagine. It would be hilarious if it were not so real. What do you do when presented with that kind of hatred? Not "long ago" hatred, but RIGHT NOW TODAY hatred.

I'm a folk singer, so my only response naturally is a folk song:

Though it's only gotten less than 200 plays, Its already been singled out by the twitter account that runs www.leofrank.org as "Jewish pedophile convicted of murdering a child is romanticized by anti-Gentile Jewish activist bard." Classy.

As I note in the song, August 17th marks his yahrtzeit and by extension, the eventual founding of the Anti-Defamation League. I'll be singing this ballad this Monday at a local ADL meeting here in NOLA. Maybe somewhere, someplace else, there will be a landsman who will also sing of Leo Frank and maybe want to learn a nice Yiddish fiddle tune, rather than one more North Georgia tune. Maybe.