- Brandi A. Neal
A genre of American comic song, popular from about 1880 to the end of World War I, with words in a dialect purporting to be typical of African American speech. The term “coon” had been in use as a pejorative term for blacks by the end of the Civil War. The ubiquity of the term was likely aided by Zip Coon, a popular caricature of black Americans common in the minstrel show tradition of the early- to mid-19th century.
J.P. Skelly’s “The Dandy Coons’ Parade” (1880) and “The Coons are on Parade” (1882) may be considered precursors of the coon song and maintained the negative stereotypes inherent in the minstrel tradition. Coon songs typed blacks as not only foppish, but as thieves, highly sexed, and violent. These stereotypes and their implications are complicated by the fact that many of these songs were composed and performed by blacks. Black songwriters produced songs as demeaning of their race as those by white composers. Bob Cole surpassed all other black composers in this respect: in collaboration with the Johnson brothers, James Weldon, and J. Rosamond, he wrote dozens of coon songs, the most famous of which was “Under the Bamboo Tree” (...