All in Good Ragtime!
What is Ragtime?
Ragtime music is a secular genre of music that came to fruition between 1896 and 1920 but it reached its height in the 1920s. The genre is typically based around the piano but it can also be accompanied by song, dance, and most notably, the syncopated rhythms. Syncopation can be found in jubilee quartets and ragtime and it is the concept of intentionally playing off-beat in order to allow the pianists to show off their creativity. This is where the genre got the name “ragtime” – the ragged off-beat style played on the piano was both new and intriguing to its listeners. Ragtime is a genre created out of black expression – following the civil war, blacks would meet in certain piano bars and clubs where they were able to show off what they knew whether they were formally trained or not.
Once ragtime music began to be published and consequently, sold to the public on sheet music, the genre became more well known and well-liked. Once the music was published, ragtime became extremely popular in the musical theater of the 1920s, although many argue that the essence of the original ragtime music was often lost in translation once it got to the stage. However, ragtime was often featured on the stage in a different manner. Coon songs and cake walks featured ragtime music widely. Coon songs were songs often performed by white people in blackface or by black people in minstrel shows where blacks were often depicted as lazy, goofy, and loud. Cake walks often incorporated ragtime music as black folks would pair up in dance to mock stereotypes of upper class white people – often making exaggerated movements and dressing in fancy clothes.
Black musicians are the original creators of ragtime music and the most notable ragtime musicians are extremely talented black folks who knew how to show off the spirit of black people through the piano. Some important composers of ragtime music include Scott Joplin, James Scott,, Jelly Roll Morton, and James Hubert “Eubie” Blake. The most notable works of these black composers include Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” Scott’s “Frog Legs Rag,” and Blake’s “Love Will Find a Way.” These composers among others were influential both for the advancement of ragtime and for the advancement of the black community. These composers were able to show off their phenomenal piano skills and became widely known for bringing ragtime to the spotlight of American music.