August 22, 2010

Coon songs were once popular. Today they are viewed as negative. Usually performed by white vaudeville performers in blackface, they made fun of an oppressed people at the turn of the century...

Later, Al Jolson used a more kindly version. Even today, The Wooster Group often performs in blackface, to highlight the absurdity of the attitudes of those times. But it backfired on one vaudeville singer. In 1904, Pauline West was caught singing these kinds of songs on the public streets late at night after a performance. She was arraigned, "her hands covered with diamonds," judged insane, and sent off to The Eastern State Hospital for the Insane in Williamsburg... Ironically, that was the only mental hospital that would treat "both caucasians and negros on an equal footing." (scroll down to Virginia). Since coon songs were done by white performers in blackface, that makes Pauline's fate especially bizarre!

  • Hey, I liked the Beatles' "Rocky Raccoon"... (but seriously, good post, you Folker)
  • Interesting. We can't pretend this type of music didn't exist, but it's not something you want to walk down the street whistling the tune, either. I guess we let the old sheet music stay in a dusty corner of the museums until it becomes an ancient curiosity.
  • Here's an interesting parallel between "coonism" and the hip hop culture. Also before they woke up, the British used it as a vehicle for Dancin' and Singin'
  • ugh, pdf's
  • This would be the appropriate time to recommend that people watch Spike Lee's "Bamboozled." Of course the ironic tragedy of Spike Lee and Public Enemy is that the people they are trying to reach are not interested in them.