The Exploitation of African American Brilliance

The term ragtime came about towards the end of the 1980s, however the music had already existed. Ragtime was a combination of vocal African American customs and written European music. This included many embellishments, the music did not hold to the standard rhythm, there would be an emphasis put on the off-beat. Most commonly, ragtime is associated with the piano. The sound has an almost fun and playful tone.

Vocal ragtime became popular in cakewalks as slaves, originally, performed shows that parody the typical White upper-class behaviors. Inversely there were also coon songs, where white people would perform in blackface and parody African American behavior, emphasizing stereotypes, which did not help with the racial tensions of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Created by African Americans, ragtime became very popular after the Civil War. At that time, African Americans had more opportunities to play in places such as saloons. From there birthed composers such as Ben Harney, who was one of the first people to publish in this genre. Other important performers include Arthur Marshall, Joe Jordan and Scott Joplin, who was also a remarkable composer.

Manny of the African American musicians were unable to read or write music. In order to preserve their music, many had to rely on the transcriptions of the whites. The whites would also arrange and sell some of the pieces. They would arrange them so they were much easier to play and exploited the original composer’s creativity and talent.

Even if the African American musicians knew how to read and write music they still had to have the whites produce their compositions. Publishers such as John Stark would take advantage of that. Stark published “Maple Leaf Rag”, which was composed by Scott Joplin. He profited considerably while Joplin only received a penny for every copy sold, which was a common pattern.

Ragtime has influenced early jazz as well as the blues, and has not been forgotten about today. One of the most recognizable ragtime pieces is “The Entertainer” which was a piece composed by Scott Joplin over a century ago. Which goes to show you how innovative this genre has been.

Written By: Jasmine


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