Skip to main content

Coon, Carleton A. (1894-1932)



  • Existence: 1894 - 1932


Carleton Coon was born in Rochester, Minnesota, on February 5, 1894. As a child, he moved to Lexington, Missouri, with his father, after Carleton’s mother abandoned the family. In Missouri, Coon, after being exposed to folk music from black workers on the Missouri River, took up the bones, and eventually the drums, which would become his instrument in the Coon-Sanders Orchestra. Coon and his father moved to Kansas City when he was a teen, and he attended high school there.

In 1919, Coon and Joe Sanders, a talented singer and jazz pianist, formed the Coon-Sanders Novelty Orchestra, where they quickly achieved local fame by performing at varying clubs, theaters, and events. Their local fame led to recording opportunities as well as broadcasting over the relatively new invention of radio. The central location of Kansas City as well as the dearth of radio stations at this time meant that many people from across the country were exposed to the Coon-Sanders Orchestra. They played during a late-night time slot, which led to a name change to the Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawks Orchestra. Their fame brought them to Chicago, where they continued to perform and broadcast, receiving acclaim and such fans as notorious gangster Al Capone. The newly created Music Corporation of America, funded by the profits from the booking of a Coon-Sanders tour, signed the group upon the company’s creation.

The band’s popularity continued to climb until Coon’s life was cut tragically short. An abscessed tooth brought on a sudden and serious state of blood poisoning. Coon passed on May 4, 1932, the orchestra immediately fell out of favor, and was disbanded the following year. Joe Sanders never again received widespread, mainstream success, and the once household Coon-Sanders name was relegated to the margins of jazz history.

All of the above information is paraphrased from Chuck Haddix’s “The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks: Radio Pioneers.” For further reading, see:

Edmiston, Fred W. The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks: The Band That Made Radio Famous. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2003.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Carleton Coon Collection

Identifier: MS-0294
Scope and Contents The Carleton Coon Collection was donated in September 2015 by Carl Jakopec. Personal documents and correspondence, articles and periodicals, and photographs comprise the bulk of this collection. The items represent a large swath of Coon’s brief life, with photographs from his childhood until the period shortly before he passed away. There is also some information about other players who performed with Coon.As the Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawks Orchestra was one of the first...
Dates: 1918 - 1993