A Real Slow Drag Through Ragtime

While Ragtime became popular in the 1890’s, its existence started long before it was given a name. While defining Ragtime brought uncertainty for most, it is agreed upon that Ragtime is a song, dance, and syncopated instrumental music that was new and unique in its development. Ragtime was created by traveling African Americans, many of whom could not read sheet music. They first played in brothels, saloons, and bars. It was a combination of written music and oral traditions, early jazz and classical music, and African American and European music. Ben Harney, an American musician, the first musician to publish a ragtime composition , became formally known as the creator of this music. The Original Rags and true owners of ragtime were Black Communities and their culture. The syncopated patterns that have roots to African musical practices, stems Back to Before it was popularized and translated by white composers. Some notable composers of Ragtime are Scott Joplin, the first major composer Tom Turpin, and W.T. Jefferson.

While these composers were pivotal to ragtime, publishing companies were the Easy winners of the profit made from these songs. Usually composers had contracts with Publishers that exploited them, their music, and ragtime.  During the Ragtime era, copyright and royalty standards did not apply to African American’s. This is no surprise being that the civil war had just ended but, did not change the rights nor racial attitudes towards Blacks. The American Dream was more like an endless Wheel of a Dream  that always came back around unfulfilled and hopeless for African Americans.

One type of Ragtime were Coon Songs. These were popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. They were typically performed by Whites who often painted their faces black singing in Negro dialect ignorer to portray stereotypes that they believed embodied the African American culture. Some of these stereotypes included, violent, sexually promiscuous thieves, and lazy. They thought they were quite “The Entertainers” and white observers were entertained by these false and grotesque portrayals of African Americans.  African Americans also had a style of Ragtime that imitated and depicted upper white stereotypes. This style of Ragtime was known as the Cakewalk. It served to create a humorous imitation of white upper class behavior such as waving canes, high-kicking grand promenade, and dignified walks. Cakewalk became quite popular and was performed at the World Fair and Madison Square Garden. Both these styles served as A Real slow Drag of the opposite race.

Although many may say Ragtime began to die out, the Reflection [on] Rag shows the influence it had on Jazz, and thus it lives on through jazz music. While Coon music depicted the stereotypes associated with Blacks, the very creation of Ragtime underlies and dismisses those negative notions. Those “lazy, thieves, who are greedy and dishonest” created a new style of music that was popular amongst many, regardless of race, and shows the true talent and musical genius of African Americans.

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