The Era of Ragtime

Ragtime music was popular from 1896 to 1920. Ragtime has African American musical roots. It exemplifies duality between written music and oral tradition, between early jazz and classical music, and between African American and European American music. Historically, ragtime was comprised of song, dance, and instrumental music.

Ragtime music is characterized by a rhythm melodic line and regularly accented accompaniment that evolved by black American musicians. It is played mainly on the piano. Dances such as the cakewalk and coon song exemplifies social implications of the genre. Many Whites began to perform coon songs in blackface.  Also, Blacks in minstrel shows, portrayed denigrating and stereotypical lyrics sung in Black dialect. The dances from the cakewalk came from slave masters. These dances reinforced existing negative stereotypes of African Americans which is a result of commodification. As ragtime emerged from the culture of Black communities, Whites began to transcribe what African Americans played through printing their music. This is another portrayal of commodification.

Important performers in ragtime include Scott Joplin and James Scott to name a few. Joplin’s music includes notable pieces such as maple leaf rag. I have included a video of Tom Turpin as an example of ragtime music. Ragtime has influenced other genres such as classical music. The saying “ragging the classics” was a feature characteristic of ragtime playing styles in the United States. Through ragtime, African Americans created a lively genre of music using characteristics such as the piano and dance.

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