Ragged but Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs," and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz
The commercial explosion of ragtime in the early twentieth century created previously unimagined opportunities for black performers. However, every prospect was mitigated by systemic racism. The biggest hits of the ragtime era weren't Scott Joplin's stately piano rags. "Coon songs," with their ugly name, defined ragtime for the masses, and played a transitional role in the commercial ascendancy of blues and jazz.In Ragged but Right, now in paperback, Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff investigate black musical comedy productions, sideshow bands, and itinerant tented minstrel shows. Ragtime history is crowned by the "big shows," the stunning musical comedy successes of Williams and Walker, Bob Cole, and Ernest Hogan. Under the big tent of Tolliver's Smart Set, Ma Rainey, Clara Smith, and others were converted from "coon shouters" to "blues singers."Throughout the ragtime era and into the era of blues and jazz, circuses and Wild West shows exploited the popular demand for black music and culture, yet segregated and subordinated black performers to the sideshow tent. Not to be confused with their nineteenth-century white predecessors, black, tented minstrel shows such as the Rabbit's Foot and Silas Green from New Orleans provided blues and jazz-heavy vernacular entertainment that black southern audiences identified with and took pride in.
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Although the name and images that the name implies are very painful to African Americans; this information needs to explored. All African Americans ( AAs) owe the responsibility of researching and learning their culture and history so they can inform the future generations to lead a purposeful , moral life of achievement, and give something back to their respective communities. This is the ancestral obligation every African American (AA) should accept and pass on to their children.
AA adults and children must accept, learn, and embrace AA culture, and history to impart ancestral obligation to motivate AA youth to want to learn. At-risk AA youth need this information to develop positive self- esteem, to know their place in the world, and to be motivated to finish high school. Middle class high achieving AA youth need this knowledge to be inspired to give something back to their AA community. AA history must become an integral accepted part of the authentic history of United States to continue making a more perfect union. At-risk AA targeted educational motivational strategies that do not include ancestral obligation are doomed to failure. American history that does not significantly include the contribution of AAs is incomplete and non-authentic. Coon Songs represents our circuitous painful path to a more perfect inclusive union.
Thomas E. Duval DDS, MPH
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