All Coons Look Alike to Me

Ernest Hogan, 1896

What stereotypes are present in the lyrics?

What stereotypes are present in the music? That is, what musical features are included that were commonly heard as "Black" in the late 1800s and early 1900s?

Why do you think African Americans like Ernest Hogan performed songs like this?

How does Hogan's career reflect the opportunities—or limited opportunities—open to African Americans in the performing arts?

"All Coons Look Alike to Me" recorded by Arthur Collins, 1902. Available through iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

Arthur Francis Collins (1864–1933) was an American baritone who was one of the most prolific and beloved of pioneer recording artists, regarded in his day as "King of the Ragtime Singers." He recorded more ragtime songs than any other singer during the era when ragtime was at its peak of popularity.

View the lyrics for "All Coons Look Alike to Me."

View the published score.

Born Ernest Reuben Crowders in Kentucky, Hogan (1865?–1909) was the most famous African American performer of his generation. Like many African American entertainers at the time, he started his career in minstrelsy. At a young age he began performing in a travelling "Tom show" (a stage show based on the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin), and by his teenage years he had excelled in acting, song, dance, and comedy on the minstrel stage.

Ernest Hogan
Ernest Hogan

In the early 1890s he changed his name to Hogan to capitalize on the popularity of Irish performers, and over the next decade he formed his own minstrel troupes, began publishing songs, appeared with the famed Black Patti's Troubadours, and starred in the trailblazing Clorindy; or, the Origin of the Cakewalk (1898), which was the first African American musical to appear on Broadway. In the early 1900s he settled in Harlem in New York City and continued to appear in vaudeville and in Broadway musicals. He died of tuberculosis in 1909.

In "All Coons Look Alike to Me" Hogan, in character, laments that his lover will sleep with any Black man because, as she says, "all coons look alike to me." This portrayal situates the song in the minstrel tradition of stereotyping Blacks as sexually promiscuous. Due to the offensiveness of the "coon" stereotype, the song was somewhat controversial when it appeared, and some Black performers voiced their dislike. Nevertheless, the song generated a flurry of interest in "coon" songs, a new genre in the popular ragtime (syncopated) style. Due to their popularity, many white and black composers and performers (including J. Rosamond Johnson and Bob Cole) wrote in and performed the genre.

"All Coons Look Alike to Me" includes the basic characteristics of the "coon" song: dialect, a comedic story containing demeaning stereotypes of African Americans, a lively tempo, and syncopation. At this time syncopation (found in abundance in the "Black" genres of ragtime and "coon" song) was considered a characteristic of African American music.




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