7 episodes

Songs in the Key of Death looks at the historic true crimes that inspired a selection of murder ballads, combining music, true crime, history, and edge-of-your-seat storytelling, along with new recordings from Sad13 and Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Hosted by music critic and author Courtney E. Smith, each episode of season one explores a single murder ballad that has been passed down by scores of singers, with each generation telling their own version of events and putting a new spin on stories of very real, often gruesome slaughters. After being told and retold, these songs and the murders that inspired them have become legends. The show looks at the violent criminals we can’t stop singing about, the grisly history they reflect, and the underrepresented voices of victims who didn’t get to tell their own stories.

Songs in the Key of Death Nevermind Media

    • True Crime
    • 4.2 • 78 Ratings

Songs in the Key of Death looks at the historic true crimes that inspired a selection of murder ballads, combining music, true crime, history, and edge-of-your-seat storytelling, along with new recordings from Sad13 and Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Hosted by music critic and author Courtney E. Smith, each episode of season one explores a single murder ballad that has been passed down by scores of singers, with each generation telling their own version of events and putting a new spin on stories of very real, often gruesome slaughters. After being told and retold, these songs and the murders that inspired them have become legends. The show looks at the violent criminals we can’t stop singing about, the grisly history they reflect, and the underrepresented voices of victims who didn’t get to tell their own stories.

    Stagger Lee

    Stagger Lee

    Whatever name you call Stagger Lee, we know one thing for sure: He shot Billy Lyons in plain sight, with a bar full of witnesses. If you’ve heard the song, you might think he did it because he lost a game of dice. But the real Stagger Lee wasn’t gambling at all. He got mad when Billy took his Stetson hat and wouldn’t give it back, so he fired the gun. What could lead to such a violent end? There’s a good chance it was politics — a life and death subject for these men. 




    Preorder the "Songs In The Key Of Death" EP via Bandcamp now!







    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    • 29 min
    Frankie And Johnny

    Frankie And Johnny

    Frankie killed Albert one night in St. Louis, back in 1899. Songwriters took a few liberties, even changing some names (that’s where “Johnny” comes in). Then Hollywood took more liberties while building multiple films around the song. Unfortunately for Frankie, it was a ballad people kept singing for over a hundred years — a ballad that ultimately killed her. 




    Preorder the "Songs In The Key Of Death" EP via Bandcamp now!







    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    • 26 min
    The Murder Of The Lawson Family

    The Murder Of The Lawson Family

    On Christmas Day 1929, Charlie Lawson committed the chilling act of murdering his wife and children. What’s darker is the reason why, according to some true crime authors. But are they right, and what do we know today about the rare phenomenon of familicide?




    Preorder the "Songs In The Key Of Death" EP via Bandcamp now!










    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    • 22 min
    Omie Wise

    Omie Wise

    When we talk about the sexism of murder ballads, “Omie Wise” jumps to the forefront as one of the most prominent examples. Whether the true story involves a woman who was drowned because she became inconvenient or because she stood up to a no-good man, they both end the same way — with Naomi Wise dead, and many tales that got it wrong.




    Preorder the "Songs In The Key Of Death" EP via Bandcamp now!







    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    • 23 min
    Henry Clay Beattie

    Henry Clay Beattie

    When Henry Clay Beattie's wife Louise died under what turned out to be mysterious circumstances in 1911, the trial of the century began. Figuring out the circumstances of her death would lead to a million lines of newsprint all over the country — and end with the electric chair.




    Preorder the "Songs In The Key Of Death" EP via Bandcamp now!







    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    • 22 min
    Delia

    Delia

    A 14-year-old girl named Delia Green was shot to death on Christmas night in 1900 by a boy who thought she was being mean to him. How did that turn into a song about a “lowdown” and “trifling” woman who was cheating on her man — and a song that would save Johnny Cash’s career?




    Preorder the "Songs In The Key Of Death" EP via Bandcamp now!







    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    • 26 min

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5
78 Ratings

78 Ratings

Grod00 ,

Great show!

A perfect combination of true crime and music history with a strong narrative voice. Love it!

hmofo813 ,

Waste of time

What a waste of time. Who in their right mind wants to hear about murder ballads from someone who is neither a folksinger nor an ethnomusicologist? Or only to actually hear the song in question once, at the end of the episode, in the most recent rendition available (always poor compared to earlier recordings) ? Or from a woman with such horrific vocal fry as to be unlistenable, and who is so poorly educated as to think that Branson, MO is “on the Mississippi” (no) and that “jurist” is another word for “juror?” (just no). I’d recommend that she learn how to look at a map and to use a dictionary before trying any further writing.

I could go on for a bit about her lazy research; in one case, I definitely know more about the facts around the song than she does, and it doesn’t take much. Her thoughts, such as they are, about social history are entirely wrongheaded and out of place.

I got through three of these to be sure she wasn’t just off to a (very) poor start, but I’m not going to subject myself to the waste of time, or that unpleasant voice, again. So I won’t be around when she murders the song she’ll surely refer to, incorrectly, as “Stagger Lee.”

This is not for people interested in any kind of songs or music (music itself is never touched upon), but for the prurient interests of devotees of the “true crime” genre. Minus five stars.

SylverBleu 99 ,

Music + Murder

Great show!! Each episode is well-researched and presents the background of the victim, when usually the original songs glorify the murderer. The episodes are just long enough to hold my interest and give many details about the lives and deaths of the characters. I love murder ballads, and this show is definitely giving me a new perspective. I also like the modern takes on the songs, sometimes with re-writes from the victims’s POV.

Top Podcasts In True Crime

audiochuck
Mandy Matney
NBC News
Exactly Right
Trooper Entertainment
audiochuck

You Might Also Like

Vox Media Podcast Network
C13Originals
Neon Hum Media
Snap Judgment and PRX
iHeartPodcasts and Grim & Mild
Tyler Mahan Coe