Sideshow alley, Brisbane Ecca, c. 1940 (State Library of Queensland)
As I wrote in my last post, Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff have recently written a book on the black bands which played coon songs, jazz and the blues in circus sideshows down south in early twentieth-century America.
This week in Brisbane the ‘Ecca’ is showing: the Brisbane Exhibition, such an institution that the schools give their kiddie two days off to go see it. Flicking through a copy of Showtime: A History of the Brisbane Exhibition (UQP, 2008), I was interested to see the above photograph. It shows that in the 1940s, a waxworks tent in the Ecca sideshow alley advertised its wares with a wax model of a black American playing a banjo, entitled ‘The Singing Coon’.
There isn’t any evidence that black American bands ever played the sideshows of Australian events like the Ecca – not to my knowledge, anyway. (There were bands playing coon songs in the tent-shows of Australian bushranger/American Wild West Show impresario, E I Cole, in Brisbane at the turn of the twentieth century, although they would have been white Australians doing ragtime: obviously not at all the same thing). But this Queenslandish echo of those sideshow bands across the Pacific is intriguing, nonetheless…
Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, ‘Coon Songs’ , and the Dark Pathways to the Blues and Jazz (University of Mississippi Press, 2007).
Joanne Scott and Ross Laurie, Showtime: A History of the Brisbane Exhibition (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2008), p 88.