Coon Songs: The new sub-genre of Ragtime


Ragtime is a music genre that was popular from the 1890s-1920s. It established a whole new set of music. It was completely different from music beforehand, such as classical music. Ragtime is a performance style that played popular songs and dance music, involving instruments such as a piano and syncopated tunes. Ragtime was created by African Americans, and it was widely known in the community. The music did not become popular with the rest of America until white composers started publishing music sheets and creating a new sub-genre called “Coon Songs.” Thus, Coon Songs are the ones that influences and popularized ragtime during the late 19th century and early 20th century.  

What are Coons Songs?

Coon Songs is a sub-genre created during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries originated from the minstrel shows. The songs were performed by White singers dressing blackface. They presented stereotypes toward African Americans and often depicted them as lazy, loud, unintelligent, and promiscuous. Coon Songs have degrading and stereotypical lyrics sung in Negro dialect. The minstrel shows have become popular at the same time as ragtime.



How Coon Songs Popularized Ragtime

In the late 1890s, Coon Songs were introduced by Ernest Hogan. He was a musician, dancer who worked in minstrel shows. Ernest produced a hit song,”All coons look alike to me,” which became the all-time successful coon song during that period. His song became the highlight of ragtime that made ragtime even more popular. Many black composers produced and wrote Coon songs to degrade their own race as much as white composers. This lead to more coon songs to be market, such as “Bully Song’ by Mary Irwin,(1896), “Hello, Ma Baby”(1899) by Arthur Collins, and “Oh! You Coon” by Ada Jones and Billy Murry(1908), The white audience were proud and  very graciously toward the  music.


To sum everything up, throughout the early 20th century, the growing market of Coon songs has made Ragtime become popular music during the 1890s through the 1920s. The music becomes comic and money for the white audience and composer, but became a mockery for the black audience and penalized the black composers, writers, and performers.

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