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Origin & Characteristics

Ragtime is a secular music genre that lasted from 1896- 1920. It formed from a previous secular music genre called folk music. Rag music included the piano and a lot of syncopation. There was emphasis on the down beats or the 2 and 4 in order to make the music more rhythmic. Ragtime music began in brothels, saloons, and bars because those were placed of low reputation and that was the only place that Black Americans were allowed to play.

Social Implications, Commodification, & Influence of Future Genres

There were many racist components to the ragtime genre like cake walks and coon songs. Cake walks consisted of African American slaves mocking their slave owners in front of them and whoever performed the best would win a cake. Coon songs consisted of white people singing and performing in blackface. Many Black Americans who played ragtime music could not write sheet music so songs were passed on orally. The first composition to sell over 1 million copies was Scott Joplins “Maple Leaf Rag” sheet music. After the success of Joplins rag many other ragtime composers were inspired to begin selling their own compositions. The ragtime genre heavily influenced the jazz genre. Artists began to slow down ragtime music and add different instruments like the horns and called it jazz.

Important Performers

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Scott Joplin

Texarkana, Arkansas

Lived: 1868- 1917

Years active:1895-1917

Composer, Pianist, Music Teacher


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James Hubert Blake

AKA Eubie Blake

Baltimore, Maryland

Lived: 1883- 1983

Years active: 1907-

Composer, Musician


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James Scott

Neosho, Missuori

Lived: 1885-1938

Years Active:1901- 1938

Composer, Music teacher, Pianist, Arranger, Band Leader


Although the ragtime genre provided many opportunities for African Americans it also seemed like ragtime was a way to exploit them. Cake walks and coon songs were ways to take things like music made by African Americans and turn them into entertainment for white people. While watching videos of white people play ragtime music and watching videos of black people playing ragtime music, white people miss the soul and skill that black people play with. White people tend to just play the notes, they don’t add their own personality to it.

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