Ragtime has been a strong presence in entertainment and musical composition for over a hundred years. It came about in the mid-1890’s and quickly spread across the country. By 1900, ragtime had taken over the music publishing industry. Being that Ragtime was becoming ever so popular, piano sales were at an all time high. Some would think that the genre of Ragtime would be hard to define.
Ragtime is defined as a genre of musical composition for the piano. It generally contains a highly syncopated treble lead over a rhythmically steady bass. It is usually composed in three to four different sections, each one being 16 or 32 measures in length. The most iconic Ragtime composers include Scott Joplin, Louis Chavin, and Thomas Turpin. Ragtime first premiered at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Ragtime was both refreshing and exciting due to its syncopation; the displacing of the beat from its regular and assumed course of meter. It is noted that Missouri, which is located in the center of the United States of America, was considered the heartland of ragtime.
In the 1880s, black entrepreneurs were flourishing in the sporting district of St. Louis. John L. Turpin, a black businessman from Savannah, Georgia made St. Louis his home in 1887, and opened his saloon Silver Dollar. John’s teenage son Tom followed in his father’s footsteps and opened his first saloon in 1897. Tom Turpin was a self-taught pianist. His is most known for the defining piece of the Ragtime era entitled “Harlem Rag”.
Ragtime was seen and being played everywhere by the early 1900s. Publishing houses were putting out piano rags and ragtime songs at a rapid pace. It was also being seen in arrangements for wind bands and orchestras. Ragtime started to fade around 1917, with the genre of Jazz on the rise. Around the 1930s and 1940s, Ragtime was not a big attraction and was still being played by more than just pianists. In the 1950s, Ragtime was the main focus of many albums, but was treated as a caricature. In 1970, Ragtime experiences a great renaissance. In 1972, Scott Joplin’s ragtime-infused opera called Treemonisha was revived. Joplin spent the last years of his life trying to find a producer for his opera. There were only two performances of Treemonisha; once on stage and once done as a read-through. With a genre like Ragtime, you must sit and engulf yourself in the music. More than a century old genre, Ragtime has continued to be prevalent in the music industry, and its performers, admirers, and composers will always have something to look forward to.