Saturday, November 30, 2013

YouTube Viewer Comments About George W. Johnson's 1891 recording "The Whistling Coon"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides twenty-five selected comments from a YouTube viewer comment thread about George W. Johnson's 1891 recording "The Whistling Coon".

This post also includes a soundfile of a 1902 Victor recording of "The Whistling Coon" by George W. Johnson.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

The selected comments are from "George Johnson - The Whistling Coon - 1891 (The first recording by an African-American)" which was uploaded Feb 2, 2009 by raresoulcom - embedding disabled by request

Hat tip to raresoulcom for posting the sound file and a lengthy summary about George W. Johnson and that song. An excerpt of that statement is presented below. Hat tip also to malkieshort for posting verses of the lyrics to that song in that viewer comment thread. Thanks also to victrolaman for publishing the 1902 recording of "The Whistling Coon" by George W. Johnson and thanks to Jim Dixon for transcribing the words to "The Happy Whistling Coon" and posting those lyrics on the Mudcat Cafe discussion thread whose hyperlink is given below.

I'm reposting these comments, in part, because I believe that some YouTube viewer comments can be interesting, informative, and worthy of archiving in & of themselves. I'm also reposting these comments on this blog because I want to help raise awareness about this record and I want to read about this record without wading through comments that contain profanity, racist language, racial arguments, remarks about contemporary music, and other problematic and/or extraneous content.

This compilation isn't meant to represent all of what I consider to be on-topic comments from that discussion thread. For instance, I haven't included comments that provide biographical information about George W. Johnson, and I haven't ncluded most of the comments that thank the uploader of that sound file for publishing it on YouTube.

Click for information about George Washington Johnson (c. October 1846 – January 23, 1914).

Also, click 1 for the lyrics of this song which were transcribed and posted on that folk music forum by Jim Dixon. As per the Library Of Congress, the words to "The Happy Whistling Coon" were written by Sam Devere and the music was composed by Sam Raeburn. The song was published in Boston: Oliver Ditson & Co., ©1889. Both Devere and Raeburn were White Americans.

FEATURED EXAMPLE: The Whistling Coon - George W. Johnson - Victor Grand Prize Record 1902

victrolaman, Uploaded on Sep 17, 2009

Here is the first African American to sing on Record, George W. Johnson and his famous song the Whistling Coon, from 1902 on Victor Record

"George Johnson's song Whistling Coon was one of the most popular of the Coon songs of the 1850-90s. While the records and the imagery that goes along with them are offensive, these are pioneering African-American recordings and songs. There are a number of virtually lost African-American songwriters from this period who tend to be left out of the Great American Song Book. Virtually none of these recordings are available today, although at one point 1 in 15 new records released by the major phonograph companies (Edison, Victor, Columbia) were coon music."...

As of 8:00 A.M. ET, November 30, 2013, there were 133,419 page views to the sound file of "The Whistling Coon" that was uploaded by raresoulcom. At that same date & time there were 337 comments [not counting my comment informing readers about this pancocojams post.]

All of these selected comments are grouped according to the year that they were posted. These comments are presented in chronological order with the oldest year's comments presented first. In one case, I added a correction about information that was given in that comment. For referencing purposes, sequential numbers have been assigned to these comments.

The opinions of these commenters are their own and may not be the same as my opinions.


1. SeanElGatoTelevision
"Nearly all recordings from this era were made on Edison cylinders and the only way to mass-produce recordings in this early format was as you describe: one at a time, ON THE SPOT and sung and played perfectly each time. The more familiar disc record had been invented just four years earlier in Germany but wouldn't be introduced for another four years in America."

2. Neurozumim
"Forgot to say the [George W. Johnson] major hit was The Laughing Song. That record outsold any other in the early days."

3. fnersch
"For those interested in African American contributions to recorded music in the early years get the 2 CD set on Archeophone: Lost Sounds-Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1891-1922."

4. ferociousgumby
"I LOVE old sound recordings. They're spooky time machines that pull you back into another era. And yes, it was another time, with very different attitudes, that allowed a title like this, but those were the standards of the era.. Sound recording has improved just a tad, and so have our attitudes, I hope."

5. Lumotaku
"One things for sure this guy can whistle. I hate when people from the present keep trying to force their beleifs and assumptions on the past. It was a different time you would have to live there to actually know the people. the whole idea of studying the past is to see what we can lean from it not blanket condemn after all if these people didn;t exist none of us would be here."

6. sauroid1
"The rascist aspects of course are offensive, yet this slice of American history is just a gem. To think that my great grandparents were young adults when this was recorded and that they probably knew of his work is just astounding. What a treasure, sad that most of Mr. Johnson's work is lost. I bet he did a lot of stage work also. 50,000 records sold for one of his songs must have been like a smash hit today. Thanks raresoulcom for sharing this."

7. Samoh Kul
"The first Black EVER recorded in history. They didn't know how to make duplicates back then. What you are hearing is a MASTER COPY. He made as many as 50 recordings a day - individually, with as many recording cones as possible close to his mouth. Singing the song over and over and over again. Some of his recordings sold as many as 50,000 copies - that's 50,000 originals."

8. clay pendleton
in reply to Samoh Kul
"Yes, this is a very important recording in the history of recorded music in general but even more so that it is the first known solo recording of a black singer. Although, there are a couple minstrel show wax cylinders featuring black artists that may be a bit earlier."

9. playerpianogal
in reply to clay pendleton
"I have a couple of those earlier wax cylinders, but still haven't repaired my cylinder player. As far as the song, it's a part of our history and is a reminder of how far we've come."

10. ronaldinhollew
"This is superb. Like one of the top comments said, it is like going back in time, because you never expect to find things like these. It's outstanding! The title just shows how far we've come."

11. vulnaviadraco
"How nice that someone has saved these early recordings. They are historical works regardless of their content and losing them would be disastrous.

12. Shylok Dread
"@liferasta1 interesting, a good post & of historical importance to african americans & politically correct people in general, p.s, i posted this in a facebook group about the history of black music but this has partly led to me being banned from the group, with me being branded as racist by white folks no less :/"

13. EmmetEarwax
"I am not clear on whether this was a cylinder record or a disk record. Both back in 1891 had lots of surface noise, and started with an announcer stating artist,title and company. If they recorded each disk record independently back in the 1890's instead of making a master stamper and pressing each one from that, then when did they start the latter, much less taxing process ?"

14. TheSanguineOne
"I can't imagine listening to this in 1891 and not wanting better quality... It would be difficult to understand without hearing live."

15. LiquidSoapMusic
in reply to TheSanguineOne
"it would have been better quality, it just degraded over time."

16. Shawn Borri
"The thing about cylinder records, they are historic time capsules that can't be "revised" they are history as it was, be it good or bad. George W Johnson was the first African American recording artist, and I think this is an amazing piece of history. The Edison Phonograph is such a well made machine, that I make over 1000 new ""wax" phonogram blanks and recordings per year, my total is 12300 of these kinds of records since 2000."

17. Kirke182
"This is a valuable recording because it came out as the irish jig piano craze was ending and ragtime was just getting started. And because the artist is black, it gives us a little window into what kind of stuff the black music consumers and performers were interested in. People get all wrapped up in the racist aspect which meant nothing to people back then and miss the cultural significance of this piece."

18. WT Gator
"This is just an amazing recording from 1891. It's racist, offensive and an important musical recording."

19. TheSanguineOne
"In order to profit from the music, he wrote a catchy song for the period with common language of the day. It was an ingenious idea and wonderful for him and the Black community to gain a foothold in the music industry at its genesis."
Correction: George W. Johnson didn't write this song. "The Happy Whistling Coon" was composed by two White Americans around 1889. Refer to the Mudcat Cafe hyperlink given above which includes a link to the Library Of Congress cover page for that song credited to Sam Devere and Sam Raeburn.

20. ncisducky4ever
"I find it awe-inspiring that this tune has been recorded 122 years ago and somehow survived to be heard today. As offensive as it may be, Mr. Johnson should be recognized by the music industry as a pioneer (that is if he hasn't been already) and if he hasn't, I certainly hope it isn't because of the coon songs because that was a different era where songs like that were not only the norm but acceptable and he, himself, sang them. Fascinating piece of American history. Thank you for uploading it."

21. andrew123456789739
"An important piece of culture history is archived here on youtube. Much gratitude to the original poster. So why are you people debating the merits of dub step and Drake? Comments sections baffle me."

22. Ramona Baker
"hmm, I believe I heard Ed Meeker sing this same song in 1917, I know all the lyrics, Interesting to find out that it's older than I thought it was."

23. phira360
"He drifted to New York in the 1870s and attracted small bits of money whistling on ferry boats for a living, which is how he was discovered and recorded." Whistling for him was working...

24. Skillet Chitlins
"Culture imposes its own rules to satisfy the zeitgeist (spirit of the day).
Labeling something as offensive while listing to a golden piece of history is how revisionism happens.
Please give George Johnson the credit he is due for being a credited talent who placed his performance on record using a brand new technology.
Johnson was a pioneer, it is unfair to him to superimpose anyone's attitude as an overriding issue to his accomplishments."

25. Ada Jones Murray Moe
"S. H. Dodley and Billy Murray recorded this song in 1911"

Thanks to all those who I've quoted in this post.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

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