Ragtime: The Genre Ahead of its Time


Ragtime was first seen in African American communities in the United States, specifically the southern and Midwest states. Ragtime was developed towards the end of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century (1890s-1917). Originally ragtime was played by black musicians in bars and clubs, without any sheet music simply playing melodies that created a unique sound of music. It became popular across the United States once sheet music and piano rolls came about.


The rhythm of ragtime was ideal for dancing. It was lively and upbeat it’s unique because it sounds as if it is made up of broken up melodies. Ragtime’s primary mode of sound is by Piano, which was used heavily before this genre came about but with ragtime the music is loose and natural opposed to single marching notes that were mainly played before. It’s springy style made it notably well-known.

Popular Performers:

There were many ragtime performers but the man who is known as the king of ragtime is Scott Joplin. Joplin composed two of the most known songs in the genre (“Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer”). He composed dozens of ragtime works in his career. Other ragtime performers include Jelly Roll Morton, Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson and James Scott. All remarkable composers in the genre.


Similar to prior genres created by African Americans, the performers of ragtime did not receive much income being the originators of the genre. This is due to the lack of publishing music due to obstacles with publishing companies. The money that was made by black performers was primarily based on tips that people left for them at local bars and clubs. On the contrary, while African Americans performed ragtime, some of the white audience wrote what was being played by the performer and sold the published sheet music to generate money from what was originally composed by the black man.

Musical Influence:

Ragtime played a key role in the influence of jazz music which followed ragtime. The tempo of ragtime became the basis of early jazz ensembles. Ragtime also generated tons of sheet music which had an influence in musical theatre.


In my opinion, ragtime was ahead of its time. It was very new and unique which made it up to grabs for the white people to capitalize off of it. Despite that fact, the black community created something beautiful and rhythmic and as history shows will continue to do so for years and years to come.


By: Alyssia Santiago

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