Lead Belly

The Bourgeois Blues

Song Review by

Leadbelly was known first and foremost as a musician who sang traditional songs like "Irene, Goodnight" and "Rock Island Line." He soon learned, however, that a great deal of his audience -- Lefties of one stripe or another -- also wanted to hear protest songs. "The Bourgeoisie Blues" is one of the 12-string guitarist's best-remembered originals, a song featuring a bouncy, bluesy beat and an incisive lyric. Leadbelly had heard the term "bourgeoisie" in a discussion on racism in Washington, D.C. "He was fascinated by the word," wrote Jeff Place in the footnotes to Bourgeois Blues, "and used it to craft a song about the racism he had experienced in Washington." The lyric warns African-Americans wishing to purchase a house in the nation's capital to look elsewhere. The Washington white middle class will use racial epitaphs, the singer notes, just to put a person down. While Leadbelly naturally expresses indignation at his and his wife Martha's treatment, there is nonetheless a certain humor to the couple's misadventures in "The Bourgeoisie Blues." The song was originally recorded in December of 1938 in New York, over a year before Woody Guthrie arrived with his dust bowl ballads.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Rock Island Line [Naxos] 1951 Naxos Nostalgia / HNH 3:24
No Image 1966
Good Mornin' Blues (1936-1940) 1969 Indigo 5:36
No Image 1991 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
Bourgeois Blues: Golden Classics, Pt. 1 1994 Collectables 3:18
Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 4 (1944) 1994 Document 2:20
Storyteller Blues 1994 Drive Archive 3:21
Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1 (1939-1940) 1995 Document 3:16
Memorial, Vols. 3 & 4 1995 Collectables 3:25
Where Did You Sleep Last Night: Lead Belly Legacy, Vol. 1 1996 Cleopatra
Good Morning Blues 1996 Pearl 3:22
Steeped in the Blues Tradition 1996
Various Artists
Tradition/Rykodisc / Tradition 3:22
Mean Old World: The Blues from 1940 to 1994 1996
Various Artists
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2:16
Bourgeois Blues: Lead Belly Legacy, Vol. 2 1997 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2:20
Leadbelly Masters 1998 TKC 3:18
Defiance Blues 1998
Various Artists
A&M 3:21
Giants of the Folk Tradition, Vol. 1 1998
Various Artists
Tradition 3:23
Midnight Special [Prism] 1998 Prism Leisure 3:23
Classic Blues, Vol. 3 [Platinum] 1999
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 3:06
My Last Go Round 1999 Recall (UK) 5:35
No Image 1999 AAO Music 3:18
Best of Lead Belly 2000 Purple Pyramid 3:02
Midnight Blues [Direct Source] 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 3:04
Shades of Blues 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 3:04
Shades of Blue [Direct Source] 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 3:04
Very Best of Leadbelly 2000 Music Club International Records 5:39
Absolutely the Best 2000 Fuel 2000 3:24
Nothing But the Blues [Import] 2000
Various Artists
Import 5:37
Private Party November 21, 1948 2000 Document 4:04
Best of Blues, Vol. 2 [Madacy] 2000
Various Artists
Madacy 3:04
Legendary Blues Recordings: Leadbelly 2001 Direct Source 3:18
No Image 2001 Aim Records
Classic Blues [Platinum Box Set] 2001
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 3:06
Roots of Ry Cooder 2002
Various Artists
Catfish 5:35
The Definitive Leadbelly 2002 Catfish / Recall (UK) 5:36
The Tradition Masters 2002 Rhino / Ryko / Rykodisc 3:27
Freedom: Songs from the Hearts of America 2002
Various Artists
Columbia 2:20
The Best of Leadbelly [Cleopatra] 2003 Cleopatra / Goldenlane 3:22
Easy Rider Blues [Catfish] 2003 Catfish 3:18
Take This Hammer [Snapper] 2004 Snapper 5:37
Kings of the Blues 2004 Castle Pulse 5:36
Best of the Blues [2005 Madacy] 2005
Various Artists
Madacy 3:02
Blues & Folk Singer 2005 Saga / Saga Blues / Universal/Saga Blues 3:25
The Blues: Bourgeois Blues 1933-1946 2005 Frémeaux & Associés 3:20
No Image 2005 Document 3:12
No Image 2005 Document 2:17
Genius of Folk 2005 St. Clair 3:03
Collector's Edition 2006 Fuel 2000 3:24
Another Tomato Sampler 2006
Various Artists
Tomato 4:09
Golden Legends: Great Blues Masters 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 3:03
No Image 2006 JSP 5:46
Important Recordings 1934-1949 2006 JSP 5:46
The Legend of Leadbelly: The Tradition Years 2006 Empire / Empire Music Group Inc.
Kings of Blues [Weton] 2006
Various Artists
Cheap O Lata / Weton 3:02
Blues Gold [Essential Media] 2007
Various Artists
Essential Media Group 3:24
The Essential Blue Archive: Diggin' My Potatoes 2007 Blue Label 5:35
Kurt Cobain: About a Son [Soundtrack] 2007
Original Soundtrack
Barsuk 3:20
Masterworks 2008 The Great American Music Company 3:26
25 Best: Blues Classics 2008
Various Artists
Madacy 3:03
Best of the Blues [Madacy 2008] 2008
Various Artists
Madacy 3:03
Definitive Leadbelly 2008 Snapper 5:36
Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways 2009
Various Artists
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2:21
The Little Red Box of Protest Songs 2009
Various Artists
Proper Box 5:35
The Roots of Janis Joplin 2009
Various Artists
Snapper 5:34
The Little Red Box of Protest Songs: We Shall Be Free 2009
Various Artists
Proper Sales & Dist. 5:35
The Legend of Leadbelly: Goodnight Irene 2010 Legacy
All Time Greatest Performances 2010 Fuel 2000 3:24
The Rough Guide to Blues Legends: Leadbelly 2010 World Music Network
Before the Fall 2011
Various Artists
Ace
Selected Recordings 1934-1948, Vol. 2 2014 JSP 4:04
The Smithsonian Folkways Collection 2015 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2:21
No Image Trigger 3:24
No Image
Various Artists
Parker Street Records 3:18
Death Letter Blues History 3:18
Diggin' Deeper: 200 Legendary Blues Treasures
Various Artists
Membran 3:18
I've Got the Blues But I'm Too Damn Mean to Cry: Protest in Early Blues & Gospel
Various Artists
JSP / JSP Records 5:36
The Blues One & Only Blues
No Image Grammercy Records 3:20
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