“Fascinating!!! Where do you research this stuff???”
Richard Wall @writinblues, September 20, 2013.

“Awesome research.”
nora j mckiddie @mckiddie_j, September 21, 2013.


BLUESMUSE35. Just
like rock & roll, hoochie coochie was old-time African-American slang for
sex. To most blues aficionados, the term is synonymous today with the blues great
Muddy Waters and

The Hoochie Coochie man himself, Muddy Waters.

his 1954 recording of the iconic Willie Dixon song, Hoochie
Coochie Man. Since this was a time before most whites were into blues, Hoochie
Coochie Man was targeted purely at black audiences and is assumed, probably
correctly, to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to a ladies’ man.

The
term itself goes back to the pre-blues days of the early Ethiopian delineators.
These mainly white entertainers of the 1820s and 1830s pre-dated the age of the
now despised minstrelsy troupes by a generation. The genre was started by a
visiting English comedian, Charles Matthews, in 1822 (see 28 June post in my archives)
and imitated by hundreds of working class Americans who blacked-up their faces
and performed songs and dances in the fashion of those heard on America’s
southern slave plantations. Two of the most famous (or infamous) of these songs
were Jim Crow and Zip Coon, caricatures at both ends of the African-American
spectrum. Jim was dressed in rags, a slave and a cripple. Zip Coon was Jim
Crow’s complete opposite, an ostentatious urban dandy in ruff, waistcoat and top
hat who believed, mistakenly so far as the audience was concerned, that he was
a fashionable city slicker.
Zip Coon sheet music from the 1830s.
While
Zip put on airs and graces and imitated affluent white toffs with his cane, fob
watch and pince-nez, the ragged Jim Crow knew his place at the bottom of the
heap. While Jim Crow was a poor southern slave, happy with his lot, Zip Coon
was a free northern black with money from unknown sources (nudge, nudge; wink,
wink) to spare; and buckets of attitude.
You
can take these characters at face value, or take the view of some academics who
maintain pro-slavery undercurrents were at work. Were Jim Crow and Zip Coon
simply coincidental comic caricatures designed purely to entertain the working
man? Or were they subtly-contrived propaganda tools working against the
abolition of slavery, campaigns for which were already gathering momentum in
the northern states? The underlying political analogy, the academics say, can
be interpreted thus: the uppity Zip Coon mocks the attempts of free-born black
men in the north to assimilate into white society; while the submissive Jim
Crow seems almost grateful to live contentedly as a slave on a romanticised
southern plantation. In other words, the songs were designed to preserve
slavery’s status quo.
The
white entertainer and anti-establishment newspaper publisher/editor, George
Washington Dixon, made Zip Coon popular and claimed to have written the song. But
so, too, did two other white blackface delineators: Bob Farrell and George
Nicholls, both of Purdy Brown’s Theatre and Circus. Farrell actually used Zip
Coon as a stage name while Nicholls was advertised as singing Zip Coon in 1833,
a good year before Dixon’s first use of the character. All three claimants,
incidentally, had also been blackface circus clowns before upgrading to the
main solo act of Ethiopian delineator.
All
of this is a long-winded (but if we don’t go into the social and political context
of the song, we may lay ourselves open to accusations of endorsing it) way of
saying that the term hoochie coochie was used in the song Zip Coon as far back
as 1833.
Over
120 years before Willie Dixon put Hoochie Coochie Man down on paper, Dixon,
Farrell or Nicholls had included it in this verse of what was advertised in the
1830s as ‘A favourite comic song’ .
Did you ever go fishin’ on a warm
summer day
When all the fish were swimmin’ in de bay
With their hands in their pockets and their pockets in their pants
Did you ever see a fishie do the Hootchy-Kootchy dance?
Chorus etc.”
 You’ll
note the term is spelt Hootchie Kootchie and predates the widely-held
assumption that the

hoochie coochie, as an erotic dance, was introduced to the
USA at America’s Philadelphia Centennial Fair in 1876. Before the dance became universally
known as a belly dance, it was called the hoochie coochie, or shimmy and shake.

  Zip Coon is
sometimes described as the world’s first syncopated pop song. While many claim
authorship of the lyrics, the tune is an old violin melody called, ‘Natchez
Under The Hill’, named after the Mississippi’s wildest river port. Killings,
knife fights and drunkenness were routine there until the 1820s. With the
original melody believed to have come from Scotland, the tune is also the basis
for another classic American popular song, ‘Turkey in the Straw’.
Pictured left: the hoochie coochie
dancer Little Egypt or Ashea Wabe, born Catherine Devine in Montreal, in 1871.

In 1896, her
scandalous dancing in New York made all the front pages when a party she was dancing at was raided by the vice squad. Little Egypt was found dead in her New York apartment in 1908, aged 36. The cause was given as gas asphyxiation. She left an estate of $200,000.
To read more about the subjects above, why not buy How Blues Evolved Volume One, a snip on the links below.
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