Death in Harlem

Arabella Johnson and the Texas Kid
Went bustin into Dixie's bout one a.m.
The night was young—
But for a wise night-bird
The pickin's weren't bad on a 133rd.
The pickin's weren't bad—
His roll wasn't slim—
And Arabella Johnson had her
Hands on him.

At a big piano a little dark girl
Was playin jazz for a midnight world.
Whip it, Miss Lucy!
Aw, pick that rag!
The Texas Kid's on a
High-steppin jag.
A dumb little jigaboo from
Somewhere South.
A row of gold in his upper mouth.
A roll of bills in his left-hand pocket.
Do it, Arabella!
Honey baby, sock it!

Dancin close, and dancin sweet,
Down in a cellar back from the street,
In Dixie's place on 133rd
When the night is young—
For an old night-bird.
Aw, pick it, Miss Lucy!
Jazz it slow!
It's good like that when you
Bass so low!

Folks at the tables drink and grin.
(Dixie makes his money on two-bit gin.)
Couples on the floor rock and shake.
(Dixie rents rooms at a buck a break.)
Loungers at the bar laugh out loud.
Everybody's happy. It's a spendin crowd—
Big time sports and girls who know
Dixie's ain't no place for a gang that's slow.
Rock it, Arabella,
Babe, you sho can go!
She says to the waiter,
Gin rickeys for two.
Says to Texas,
How'd a dance strike you?
Says to Lucy,
Play a long time, gal!
Says to the world,
Here's my sugar-daddy pal.
Whispers to Texas,
Boy, you're sweet!
She gurgles to Texas,
What you like to eat?
Spaghetti and gin, music and smoke,
And a woman cross the table when a man ain't broke—
When a man's won a fight in a big man's town—
Aw, plunk it, Miss Lucy,
Cause we dancin down!
A party of whites from Fifth Avenue
Came tippin into Dixie's to get a view.
Came tippin into Dixie's with smiles on their faces,
Knowin they can buy a dozen colored places.
Dixie grinned. Dixie bowed.
Dixie rubbed his hands and laughed out loud—
While a tall white woman
In an ermine cape
Looked at the blacks and
Thought of rape,
Looked at the blacks and
Thought of a rope,
Looked at the blacks and
Thought of flame,
And thought of something
Without a name.
Aw, play it, Miss Lucy!
Ain't you shame?
Lucy was a-bassin it, boom, boom, boom,
When Arabella went to the LADIES' ROOM.
She left the Texas Kid settin by himself
All unsuspectin of the chippie on his left—
Her name was Bessie. She was brown and bold.
And she sat on her chair like a sweet jelly roll.
She cast her eyes on Texas, hollered,
Listen, boy,
While the music's playin let's
Spread some joy!

Now, Texas was a lover.
Bessie was, too.
They loved one another till
The music got through.
While Miss Lucy played it, boom, boom, boom,
And Arabella was busy in the LADIES' ROOM.
When she come out
She looked across the place—
And there was Bessie
Settin in her place!
(It was just as if somebody
Kicked her in the face.)

Arabella drew her pistol.
She uttered a cry.
Everybody dodged as
A ball passed by.
A shot rang out.
Bessie pulled a knife,
But Arabella had her gun.
Stand back folkses, let us
Have our fun.
And a shot rang out.
Some began to tremble and
Some began to scream.
Bessie stared at Bella
Like a woman in a dream
As the shots rang out.
A white lady fainted.
A black woman cried.
But Bessie took a bullet to her
Heart and died
As the shots rang out.
A whole slew of people
Went rushin for the door
And left poor Bessie bleedin
In that cellar on the floor
When the shots rang out.
Then the place was empty,
No music didn't play,
And whoever loved Bessie was
Far away.
Take me,
Jesus, take me
Home today!

Oh, they nabbed Arabella
And drove her off to jail
Just as the sky in the
East turned pale
And night like a reefer-man
Slipped away
And the sun came up and
It was day—
But the Texas Kid,
With lovin in his head,
Picked up another woman and
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