Early on in his career, Irving Berlin wrote a good few coon songs, but like Jesse Goldberg nearly a century later, he had no hang ups about portraying his own race in a less than flattering light. "Cohen Owes Me Ninety Seven Dollars" is a comic song about a Jewish businessman he wrote for Belle Baker, a Russian Jew like himself. As his biographer Laurence Bergreen put it rather ungrammatically in As Thousands Cheer, "The maudlin opening verse leads the audience to expect that the old man will deliver the fruits of a lifetime, but instead, all the old man really can think of is his business". The dying man calls his son to his bedside and gives him a list of debtors to collect from, and when they all pay up promptly he makes a miraculous recovery pointing out this is no time for a businessman to die.
The song was published by Waterson, Berlin & Snyder of New York, copyright 1915.
A magnificent recording was made by Janet Klein in a thick Yiddish accent at the Tin Pan Alley show during the Annual West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento, November 2007.
Suggestion credit: Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 3