The Preacher and the Bear
Writer(s): George Fairman and Joe Arizonia (see lyrics here)
First Charted: June 3, 1905
Peak: 111 US, 5 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 2.0 US
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, -- video, -- streaming
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About the Song:
“The Preacher and the Bear” “became the most popular coon song of the era.” TY2 Such songs generally had ragtime-influenced melodies and used the word “coon” as a derogatory term for Black people. The sheet music usually bore demeaning depictions of African Americans. TY The “comic novelty” DJ tells the story of a preacher going hunting on a Sunday, despite knowing he isn’t supposed to. When he comes home, a grizzly bear chases him up a tree. It has become a campfire favorite. DJ
The song is typically credited to Joe Arizonia but was penned in 1903 by George Fairman of Front Royal, Virginia. BM He played piano in Arizonia’s nightclub and sold the rights to “The Preacher and the Bear” to Arizonia for $250 shortly after composing it. Songwriter Arthur Longbrake then arranged the song on sheet music BM and Arizonia copyrighted the song in 1904. LW
Arthur Collins was a famous ragtime and “dialect comedy singer,” DJ meaning he often imiatated black vocal style and speech. TY He recorded the song in 1905. He was the first artist to have a hit based on sales figures of cylinders and disks. TY At the time, sheet music sales still dominated but wax cylinder recordings of songs started selling in the 1890s. LW
In 1925, Riley Puckett made “an old-time country recording” BM of the song. In 1947, Phil Harris had a hit with the song (#22) after altering the racially derogative “coon” lyrics. BM Others who have recorded the song include the Big Bopper, Andy Griffith, the New Christy Minstrels, Jerry Reed, Sons of the Pioneers, Ray Stevens, and Rufus Thomas. BM
First posted 12/9/2022.