Coon Songs: The Mockery of African-Americans

History of Ragtime

Ragtime is defined by performance and composing through the playing of popular songs, dance and instrumental music. The elements of ragtime can be recognized through the fast paced beats, inclusion of instruments such as the piano and vocal beats. 

What are Coon Songs?

Coon songs are an aspect of ragtime music that presented a stereotype of black people. The songs were composed of degrading lyrics that portrayed black people as lazy, greedy, and violent. Blackface white performers would sing these songs at minstrel shows along with doing grotesque dances. 

By 1900, African Americans musicians and performers had moved beyond minstrelsy and made artistic movements that started with ragtime. In response, white audiences around the country jumped on the ragtime train allowing for the genre to surface popular culture. 

The surge of racism that surrounded the coon songs was an outgrowth of white fear that African Americans would migrate from rural areas to urban areas. Coon songs reinvented the archetypical antebellum “Zip Coon” as a black urban dweller whose primitive nature was both revealed and disguised through by fancied clothing and habits 

In the midst of African American performers reclaiming the direction of musical genres, white performers used coon songs to degrade and humiliate black people. Coon songs spoke volumes to white audiences along with black composers sense of personal pride and self image. African Americans had to cope with the belittling of their image through the ridicule of white performers. The implications of coon songs   within ragtime showed the ridicule of African Americans through music by defaming their image and character.  

Popular Coon Songs during Ragtime included: 

All Coons Look Like Me: A Darkey Misunderstanding by Ernest Hogan Little Alabama Coon: Hattie StarrCoon’s Town Vacation: Cake Walk & Two Step by Charles B Brown. 

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