Overcoming the Obstacles

Ragtime was created by African American musicians in the late 19th century but it was the most popular between 1896-1920. The ragtime genre was created and made popular by African American musicians who did not read and or write music. The characteristics of ragtime music includes syncopations, unique rhythms, and unique melodies that added a unique twist.

During the time that the ragtime genre was becoming popular so were coon songs and cakewalks. The cakewalk was a dance performed by slaves in which they mocked whites and after a winner was picked they were rewarded a cake. The coon songs were performed by whites in black face portraying stereotypical ideas about African Americans. Socially, this impacted African Americans because they were being used as entertainment by whites and were not taken seriously.

Important performers in the ragtime genre are Tom Turnip, Louis Chauvin, and Scott Hayden. Turnip was known for his performances and he helped other African American musicians by allowing them to perform in his saloon. Chauvin was known as the “King of Ragtime Players” and was thought to be the best pianist in St. Louis. Hayden composed ragtime songs with Scott Joplin, who was the first to sell over a million copies of sheet music.

African American ragtime musicians preferred to perform ragtime instead of selling their creations as sheet music. By performing the African American musicians were able to ensure they would be paid what they were owed. If they were to publish their rag creations there would be no guarantee that they would receive acknowledgement and money for their work.

The ragtime genre influenced future genres such as jazz and the blues. In my opinion, the ragtime genre is interesting due to the racism that took place such as the cake walks and coon songs which were directly tied to ragtime. Also, the flourishing of African American performers and musicians surprises me due to the racist practices that are linked to the ragtime genre. It is clear that African American ragtime musicians truly overcame the obstacles and thrive.

By: Gabrielle Williams


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