Above: Johnson, in an engraving reproduced from a catalog of New Jersey cylinder records from March, 1894. From Hobbies, 1971. Below: the sheet music of "Laughing Song," credited to Geo. W. Johnson (arranged by Frank Banta) and published in 1894. From The Companion to the Encyclopedia of Popular American Recording Pioneers, 1895-1925, complied by Mr. Tim Gracyk.
In 1906, Columbia issued "The Merry Mail Man," a collaborative comedy record by Johnson and veteran recording artist Len Spencer, in which Spencer portrays a postman delivering letters, and the final door he comes to is Johnson's, the "Laughing Coon." Ironically, this was apparently not the only door that Johnson ever opened for Spencer, since in the letters of Fred Rabenstien, the recording paymaster for the Edison company, Walsh discovered some insight into Johnson's whereabouts in his later life:
"(Len Spencer's Lyceum -- a booking agency) had a doorman in full regalia -- he was none other than George W. Johnson. ... George was something to behold in his full dress admiral (or was it general?) uniform. ... George had a room at the Lyceum ... he used to run errands and always being a little short of cash he used to borrow money from his clients. He never paid back and after a while he was afraid to go to some of the places.
George could only do "The Laughing Song" and therefore it was hard for him to pick up extra money. Then he liked to drink. After George died Len started to clean out the room and in a closet they found remains of many lunches (bread, bottles, ham, etc.), including roaches and other livestock.
Len did not get another doorman, but had an office boy. We understood that Len treated George all right, but was afraid to let him have much money because the "doorman" would be disposed for several days afterward." 2
George W. Johnson is believed to have died sometime between 1910 and 1914, though no records have been found to confirm the exact date.
As I was coming 'round the corner I heard some people say,
"here comes the dandy darkey, here he comes, this way.
His heel is like a snowplow and his mouth is like a trap,
and when he opens it gently you will see a fearful gap.
(chorus) And then I laughed: ha ha ha ha ha ha -- ha ha ha ha
I couldn't stop my laughing ha ha ha ha ha ha ha -- ha ha ha
ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha
I couldn't stop my laughing ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
They say his mother was a princess and his father was a prince,
and he'd have been the apple of their eye if he hadn't been a quince."
He'd be the King of Africa in the sweet by and by ..."
And when I heard then say it, why, I laughed until I cried.
So, now, kind friends, just listen to what I'm going to say,
I've tried my best to please you with my simple little lay.
So whether you think it's funny or a quiet bit of chaff,
Well all I'm going to do is just to end it with a laugh.
"The Laughing Song," words and music copyrighted by Geo. W. Johnson, 1894.
2 Hobbies magazine, January and Februray, 1971.