Ragtime: Unmistakably Black?


The term “Ragtime” was used from the 1890’s to the 1920’s to describe the performance of popular music, song, and dance. There was some confusion surrounding this genre but research suggests that this genre has its roots in African American culture. The term “Ragtime” describes the mix between written music and oral music, between jazz and classical, and between African American and European American musical traditions. Scholars could not derive any specific cultural context or meaning from this genre of music.

The Ambiguity of Ragtime

Researchers have found it difficult to trace Ragtime back to any specific cultural tradition. The blurred cultural elements of the genre are what make it like no other. It even varies in its sound; one song sounding relatively different from the next. Ragtime originally encompassed song, dance, and syncopated instrumental music but now our understanding of Ragtime music has been simplified to one instrument, the piano. Ragtime comes from the concept of “ragging”. “Ragging” is to syncopate a tune. place beats where they would not normally go.

Scott Joplin’s Influence on Ragtime

Scotte Joplin is largely responsible for using “ragging” which was previously known as a way of playing music to compose. The sophisticated style of composing ragtime proposed by Joplin is the reason musicians can still play Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer today


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