Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"La Pas Ma La" Songs & Dance

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides a compilation of information from various online sources about the late 19th century songs entitled "La Pas Ma La". There was also at least one dance called "La Pas Ma La", although the cakewalk was also done to these songs and to their instrumental music.

The content of this post is presented for historical and folkloric purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

[update 12/30/2012 given as Comment #6]

Comment #1
Ernest Hogan (born Ernest Reuben Crowdus; 1865 – 1909) was the first African-American entertainer to produce and star in a Broadway show (The Oyster Man in 1907) and helped create the musical genre of ragtime...He was born Ernest Reuben Crowders, in the Shake Rag District of Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 1865. As a teenager, he traveled with a minstrel troupe called the Georgia Graduate, where he performed as a dancer, musician, and comedian. During this time he changed his name to Hogan because "Irish performers were in vogue." Hogan likely performed in blackface during this time, as he sometimes did later in his career.

Hogan created a comedy dance called the "pasmala", which consisted of a walk forward with three steps back. In 1895, he wrote and published a song based on this dance called "La Pas Ma La". The song's chorus was:
Hand upon yo' head, let your mind roll back,
Back, back back and look at the stars
Stand up rightly, dance it brightly
That's the Pas Ma La.
Although there may be no connection, the dance movements for the Yoruba (Nigeria) orginated dance for the Ibejis (twins) is very similar to the description given for "La Pas Ma La". Click a description of the Ibeji dance.

Comment #2
Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895 By Lynn Abbott, Doug Seroff
Page 444
“The Possum A La” or “Pas Ma La” is generally considered to have a “characteristic” African American folk dance. The title appears to be a phonetic corruption of a colloquial French term. Music historian Isaac Goldberg speculated in 1930 that it derived from “the French pas mele or mixed step. One 1895 sheet-music version is sub-titled “La Das [sic] Pas Malaise” (The Difficult Step).

“The Pas Ma La” may have been the dance pointed out by a correspondent from Louisville, Kentucky, in the April 1, 1893, edition of the Freeman, “Prof. J.T. Guillard, a dance master , lectured to young ladies and gentlemen about the dance called “Possum”. It is likely that Guillard was admonishing his pupils to refrain from indulging in this low- brow, up-from-under dance. Several months later, in 1894, Irving Jones introduced his sheet music of “Possumala Dance” which ragtime historians had cited for its “few measures of real ragtime scoring”...

Irving Jones’ “Possumala Dance” appears to have been the first of a run of sheet music renditions of “Pas Ma La”...

Page 434
[In 1895 Earnest Hogan] wrote a drama called “In Old Tennessee” in which he introduced his famous song “Pas Ma La” – being the first ragtime song published. [Hogan] then followed [that song’ with world famous hit “All Coons Look Alike To Me”.

Page 484
[There is a] 1901 Reference to the “pas ma la” cakewalk” in [a] newspaper report of an Uncle Tom’s Cabin show. The song “Rag Ma La” was also mentioned in that report... [A] 1908 report of another “rag” called “Plant City Ragmala”. Also information of another song called “Dance The Georgia Poss” and a field recording from the Library of Congress collection “Possum-ala as sung by Anne Brewer of Montgomery, Alabama in 1937.
These excerpts are quoted without notations. In later years, Hogan is reported to very much regret composing the "All Coons Look Alike To Me" song. [As indicated on Hogan's Wikipedia page given below.]

"Rag" here means a song composed in the Ragtime music style.

Comment #3¬word=&d=&c=&f=2&k=0&lWord=&lField=&sScope=&sLevel=&sLabel=&sort=&imgs=20&pos=2&e=w

"La Pas Ma La" by Ernest Hogan, 1895. Set to a habanera rhythm, labeled by some as "the first rag-time song", it contains some distinctly "New Orleans" characteristics."
Here are the words that are shown on this cover of the sheet Music Of "La Pas Ma La":
"La Pas Ma La / words and music by Ernest Hogan. [Fus you say 'my ni**ah' git you gun, shoota dem ducks an' aw...] ([c1895])
The "n word" is fully spelled out.

Here's my description of that cover drawing:
The sheet music cover (poster?) shows three well dressed middle age to elderly Black adults. One woman is standing in between two men. Each of the people are leaning forward (bowing to greet someone?) One of the men and the woman are holding their head up, with their right hand pointed in front and their left hand held behind their back. The other man is shown holding a top hat with his head bowed lower than the other people. His left knee is also bent more than the others.

Comment #4
This site presents information about the 1898 song "My Honolulu Lady" by Lee Johnson.
The sheet music calls this song "The Latest Coon Conquest." Coon songs were songs performed by white men in black face (as in minstrel shows and Al Jolson's work).

Sheet Music: Zeno Mauvais Music Company (San Francisco)
The music begins as a schottische, followed by a chorus, and then a 16-bar section called "Hawaiian Pas-ma-la" which is another term for cake walk.

The singer has decided to leave his Alabama girl for Honolulu Lou. Then he's going back to Alabam and "show dem coons and wenches style and grace that is divine, when we both pass down de line.... We cut de pigeon wing, de coons did shout and sing, when we did de Honolulu Pas-ma-la. Den we glided by de judge's stand; de coons and wenches sighed. When my Lou she took first prize."

Comment #5
Dance in California Sheet Music
"Cakewalk, or Pas-ma-la "My Honolulu Lady" by Lee Johnson includes a dance at the end entitled Pas-ma-la, or Cakewalk. A photo of the "Newsboys' Quintette" that performed the piece is included on the last page of the digitized images of "Rosie Cleary," also by Lee Johnson."

Comment #6 Yesterday's Papers "Ernest Hogan, the Unbleached American", April 15, 2012

Hat tip to John Adcock for his alerting me to his blog post on Ernest Hogan. In addition to the information and lyric excerpt that are quoted below, that blog post presents another small tidbit of information about "Pas Ma La" as well as information & contemporaneous comments about Ernest Hogan, and about other songs that Hogan composed such as "All Coons Look Alike To Me".

Quote from the Yesterday's Papers blog post:
"Pas Ma La’ was said to be the first ragtime song ever written. Hogan had composed the song while working as a piano player in Kansas City.

The latest craze in town,
And it’s known for miles around,
It’s a daisy, sets you crazy,
Where’er it can be found,
It am the latest dance,
With others it stands par,
And with your kind attention,
We’ll do the Pas-ma-la.

Here are two instrumental renditions of "La Pas Ma La":
(These videos are presented in no particular order).

Video #1: Ragtime Skedaddlers "La Pas Ma La" by Ernest Hogan

Uploaded by nicholaskrobinson on May 9, 2009

...The Ragtime Skedaddlers play "La Pas Ma La" by Ernest Hogan at the Festival of the Mandolins in San Francisco, April 26, 20009. Nick Robinson (mandolin), Dennis Pash (banjo-mandolin), Dave Krinkel (guitar).

Video #2: Tune #4 - With Pash, Sanders, VanWinkle & Brune

Uploaded by tdub1941 on Dec 19, 2006

Tune Title is: "LA PAS MA LA." Written by ERNEST HOGAN

Here's a comment from that video's viewer comment thread:
"The tune is "La Pas Ma La." The final published version was by Ernest Hogan (1896), but it was based on several previous similar tunes with similar names (e.g., "Pas Ma La Dance" by Irving Jones, 1895). It is considered to have originally been an African American folk dance.
-grandrag, 2008

Thanks to the composers of these songs, and creators of these dances. Thanks also to those whose comments are quoted in this post, and those who are showcased in these featured videos. Thanks also to the uploaders of these videos.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Lester Walton had a different view of Hogan's "regret" over 'All Coons Look Alike to Me."

    1. Thanks for referring me and other readers of this post to your interesting & informative blog post on Ernest Hogan.

      I've taken the liberty to include the "La Pas Ma La" lyrics in that post to this pancocojams blog post, along with a hyperlink.

      Best wishes!

  2. My quote was from an old newspaper article and may not be entirely accurate. The sheet music and full lyrics can be found at this handy site (just enter the song title in the search box) >

    1. Greetings, John Adcock.

      Thanks again, but unless I'm not searching that site correctly, that link to the New York Public Library Digital Gallery doesn't seem to provide the full lyrics to "La Pas Ma La" but just the cover of music score that I have already linked to in this post, as well as sheet music for other songs of that time.