Ragged but Right
Black Traveling Shows, â??Coon Songs,â? and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: University Press of Mississippi
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When we first started pooling our research and comparing notes, about thirty years ago, we had no idea that we would be undertaking long-term writing projects together. We are grateful for having been able to hammer out a democratic working relationship capable of withstanding the years. This is our second outing with University Press ...
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In 1897 an African American stage singer named Bessie Gillam, on the road with P. T. Wright’s Nashville Students, drew praise from a black entertainment reporter for her “artistic rendition of coon songs.” The writer took stock of Bessie Gillam’s situation: “Being a young lady she has a bright future and we look forward to see her hold positions ...
PART I. Coon Songs, Big Shows, and Black Stage Stars of the Ragtime Era
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In the late 1890s, ragtime sung and performed by black musicians reached the mainstream popular stage in a form ignobly dubbed the “coon song.” Coon songs, with their ugly name, typically featured lyrics in Negro dialect, caricaturing African American life, set to the melodious strains of ragtime music. The designation first took hold ...
PART II. The Spirit of the Smart Set
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The comedian-producers of the big shows weaned mainstream audiences away from the crude character delineations of nineteenth-century minstrelsy and conditioned them to appreciate verisimilitude in black comedy representation. “Natural expression” in racial caricature became the cutting edge of black comedy. Still in blackface makeup, black ...
PART III. Blues for the Sideshow Tent
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Only since the 1980s has there been any significant representation of African American circus performers under the big top. In his 1990 study, The American Circus: An Illustrated History, John Culhane reveals that in 1968, “Irvin Feld introduced to the circus a troupe of basketball-playing uni-cycle riders, the King Charles Troupe, and proudly ...
PART IV. “Under Canvas”: African American Tented Minstrelsy and the Untold Story of Allen’s New Orleans Minstrels, the Rabbit’s Foot Company, the Florida Blossoms, and Silas Green from New Orleans
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The great African American minstrel companies of the 1890s—Mahara’s Minstrels, Isham’s Octoroons, the Black Patti Troubadours, Richards and Pringle’s Georgia Minstrels, etc.—all held forth in mainstream theaters. The onset of ragtime made possible the full realization of “genuine” African American minstrelsy; by the turn of the century, ...
APPENDIX I. Rosters of Alexander Tolliver’s Shows
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APPENDIX II. Itinerary of Alexander Tolliver’s Big Show/Smart Set
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APPENDIX III. Circus and Wild West Side Show Annex Band and Minstrel Rosters, 1911–1920
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APPENDIX IV. BAND ROSTERS OF ALLEN'S NEW ORLEANS MINSTRELS, THE RABBIT’S FOOT COMPANY, THE FLORIDA BLOSSOMS, AND SILAS GREEN FROM NEW ORLEANS, 1900–1940
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Publication Year: 2007