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Origin of the Genre

Ragtime is a genre created by African Americans in the late 1800s. Ragtime was birthed within black communities. It was a product of the folk-blues genre. During slavery, slaves would perform songs that were favored by their master and other whites. African instruments used such as the banjo and fiddle slightly altered the feel of these songs giving them more syncopation. A style that is very persistent in African American music.

Characteristics of the Genre 

Ragtime music was composed and was primarily instrumental. Ragtime is not a meter, but it created an effect that can be used in different forms of music. Ragtime is highly syncopated and rhythmic. Syncopation is a disturbance in the regular flow of a rhythm. Before African Americans were involved, most music was felt on beats one and three. African Americans feel the music on beats two and four. Syncopation along with musical ornaments and improvisation create what we know as ragtime.


Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag was the first composition to have one million copies published in the 1900s. Since then, many ragtime performers went on to get their music published, creating a name for themselves and increasing the popularity of ragtime music. Blacks were beginning to gain the deserved recognition for their contributions to the genre.

Social Implications

African American performs would travel the world performing rags in clubs. The ragtime genre was gaining popularity in not only the black community but in white communities as well. Tin Pan Alley located in New York was an area in which whites were publishing and perform their version of ragtime music.

Important Performers

Scott Joplin


Eubie Blake

Fats Waller

Influences of Future Genres

Ragtime music was one of the main influencers of jazz music. Characteristics that makeup ragtime music such as call and response and rhythmical styles would go on to influence blues, rock and roll, and other future genres.

Conclusory Opinions

Ragtime was originally used by whites to humiliate and belittle African Americans. Slaves would dress up and imitate whites in Cakewalks where they paraded around in hopes of winning the prize which was most likely a cake. Ragtime was also used in Minstrel shows which were shows were whites would paint their faces black and perform as blacks as a form of comedy. Ragtime music was reclaimed by blacks and they took it and ran with it. This is a theme that has proven to be common for African Americans in U.S. History. This is just another example of the resourcefulness and excellence of the black community.

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