Ragtime: Joplin’s Joy

Origin and Characteristics

Ragtime is a musical style that emerged during the time period of 1896 and 1920. It was first played in saloons, bars, brothels, etc. in areas that were heavily populated by black people. This genre of music features a highly syncopated treble over a steady bass. The name “ragtime” comes from the phrase “rag”, referring to the syncopated beats that were created by the music. Ragtime music is played on beats 1 & 3 while the chords play on beats 2 & 4.

Social Implications and Commodification

Ragtime was a genre created by black people that was extremely popular for a fair amount of time. This was one of the first times when black people were able to receive credit for their work and earn enough money from their music to support themselves. For example, Scott Joplin earned a penny per copy sold of his famous song, “Maple Leaf Rag”. For a short period of time, ragtime uplifted the black community. However, with Ragtime’s growth in popularity came the creation of coon songs (performed by white people in blackface), which were meant to mock and degrade black people. The surge of racism presented in coon songs was a display of white fear that came from black people migrating from southern rural areas to urban areas in the north. 

Influence on Future Genres and Conclusory Opinions

Ragtime music is said to be the predecessor to Jazz music, which also features the sounds of the piano and contains a lot of fast-paced beats. The ragtime genre was able to open many doors for black people in regards to their musical talents, even though the genre was quickly exploited by white people. The syncopated sound, which was extremely groundbreaking during its time, has and will continue to impact future genres of music. 

Scott Joplin was a very famous Ragtime performer, his most popular song being “Maple Leaf Rag,” which he is performing in this video. 

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