Ragged but Right: Black Traveling Shows, Coon Songs, and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz

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Overview

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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781578069019
  • Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
  • Publication date: 1/25/2007
  • Series: American Made Music Series
  • Pages: 461
  • Product dimensions: 8.46 (w) x 10.20 (h) x 1.41 (d)

Meet the Author


Lynn Abbott works for the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University. He co-wrote (with Doug Seroff) the award-winning book Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895 and the forthcoming To Do This, You Must Know How: Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Quartet Tradition, both published by the University Press of Mississippi.

Doug Seroff is an independent scholar living in Greenbrier, Tennessee. He co-wrote (with Lynn Abbott) the award-winning book Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895 and the forthcoming To Do This, You Must Know How: Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Quartet Tradition, both published by the University Press of Mississippi.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments     vii
Introduction     3
Coon Songs, Big Shows, and Black Stage Stars of the Ragtime Era     11
The Spirit of the Smart Set     81
Blues for the Sideshow Tent     157
"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     209
Rosters of Alexander Tolliver's Shows     357
Itinerary of Alexander Tolliver's Big Show/Smart Set     359
Circus and Wild West Side Show Annex Band and Minstrel Rosters, 1911-1920     361
Band Rosters of Allen's New Orleans Minstrels, the Rabbit's Foot Company, the Florida Blossoms, and Silas Green from New Orleans, 1900-1940     371
Notes     383
General Index     427
Song Index     451
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