Ragtime: The Unseen Genre

Ragtime is a genre developed by African-Americans between 1896 and 1920 and was often understood as a syncopated instrumental music. Similar to folk music, ragtime is distinguished by its musicians who generally could not read or write music. These musicians were extremely talented and innovative in their own right, performing for audiences across bars, saloons, and Black spaces following the Civil War. Furthermore, Whites would attempt to transcribe Black created ragtime songs, selling their versions to White middle and upper class piano players. Sheet music is what transformed ragtime from a primarily Black genre to an abused and misinterpreted White genre. As a result, the progression of ragtime reflected White Americans capitalizing of Black arrangements. Whites would perform “cakewalks” and “coon songs” to mimic the original sounds, expanding their audience due to the wide interest and imitation of Black culture. “Cakewalks” and “coon songs” were parodies of stereotypical African-American performers performing dances and songs. Despite society’s lack of respect towards ragtime, its upbeat essence signifies the genre as impactful and greatly important.