Saturday, June 20, 2009


I am not the first Ernest Hogan to become known for a few things. (We won’t mention the nit-wit responsible for the recent Texas adult diaper scandal.) In the late nineteen century, and up to his death in 1907, a man with my name became famous for, among other things, coining the world "ragtime." Guess that makes him the William Gibson of his era.

His real name was Ruben Crowder, which means I'm a real Ernest Hogan, opposed to his using it as a pseudonym. My parents didn’t know about him. I never heard of him until I first got internet access.

He is most famous – or maybe infamous would be the proper word – for a hit song called "All Coons Look Alike to Me." As the story goes, when he first wrote the song, the term "coon" was used by blacks to demean whites. The song was hit in with the new recording technology, some consider it to prototype for all modern popular music. So popular that white people started calling blacks "coons."

This may or may not be true, but such a reversal is a remarkable achievement in itself. Could anybody do it again?

For this cruel trick of history, his name (which is also mine) has been dragged through the mud.

Those who do this, tend to ignorant of his many, remarkable accomplishments. He was the first African American to write, produce, and star in Broadway show. His is called the Father of Ragtime because he worked with Scott Joplin to create the genre. The two made an epic journey across the Wild West to San Francisco, along with a Negro magician, doing a medicine show to finance their enterprise. (Hey, African American filmmakers! Wouldn’t that make a great Western?)

He also was civil rights pioneer, suing businesses that would discriminate against him or his troupe. One of these law suits took place in Hawaii.

Why he isn’t considered a hero is a crying shame.

I can identify with being put down for unconventional, vernacular language. But without the controversial words, his music is beautiful.

I’m tempted to write his biography, so I can call it Ernest Hogan: Not an Autobiography by Ernest Hogan

I’ve also got an idea for time travel story, to explain how he came decide to pick this unlikely name. It would have me going back in time to meet him. There isn’t enough to it make much out of it so far. It needs to simmer in the back of my brain a while. A few more fragments of weirdness need to collide.

It’s amazing that such a bizarre coincidence would happen. That seems to be the way of this crazy universe that we live in.

Then some who say there are no coincidences. That gets scary.

But then that’s what it’s like to be an Ernest Hogan. Just ask the Texas adult diaper scandal guy.

Now here’s the Ragtime Skedaddlers, doing his composition, "La Pas Ma La" . . .

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