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The first black American recording artist, George W. Johnson, sings his great hit The Laughing Song.

The Laughing Song
Company Edison's National Phonograph Company
Cylinder # 4004
Category Comic song
Title The Laughing Song
Performed by George W. Johnson
Circa 1898
Announcement "The Laughing Song, by Mr. George W. Johnson."
George W. Johnson, ca. 1894

Pioneering recording artist, George W. Johnson, was an ex-slave and the first black American recording personality.   He "sang" this, his hit song of the 1890s (see lyrics, below), along with his great infectious laugh, literally thousands of times into tens of thousands of phonograph horns.

Early recordings by Edison's National Phonograph Company often would not contain the advertisement-style announcement branding it an "Edison record".   Also during this era, soloists many times would announce their own records, as is the case here with Johnson.

To hear The Laughing Song   —

For help playing these sounds, click here.

Original record slip (click for enlargement)
— The original record slip
(click for enlargement)

The Laughing Song
by George W. Johnson

As I was coming around the corner
I heard some people say,
"Here comes a dandy darky,
Here he comes this way,
His heel is like a snowplow,
His mouth is like a trap,
And when he opens it gently, 
You will see a fearful gap."

And then I laughed . . .

They said, "His mother was a Princess,
His father was a Prince,
And he'd been the apple of their eye
If he had not been a quince.
But he'll be the King of Africa 
In the sweet by and by",
And when I heard them say it, why
I laughed until I cried.

And then I laughed . . .

So now, kind friend, just listen
To what I'm going to say.
I've tried my best to please you 
With my simple little lay.
Now, whether you think it's funny, 
Or quite a bit of chaff,
Why all I'm going to do is 
Just to end it with a laugh.

And then I laughed . . .

Johnson's lyrics read 'Africa', but what does he sing?   Aferker?   Aspirin??   You judge!

Listen to four examples of Johnson singing 'Africa'   —

— This cylinder is from the collection of  Robert Carver —


To hear other examples of wax cylinders, see the

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