Ragtime was created and made popular by African American musicians who did not read or write music. It was first played in brothels, saloons, bars, and similar sites where blacks received their first opportunity to perform post- Civil War. Ragtime was defined as having African American musical roots. It was difficult to pinpoint exactly what ragtime is, but it is defined as a duality between written music and oral tradition, early jazz and classical music, and African American and European American music. Its characteristics include duple meter and contains highly syncopated treble lead over a rhythmically steady bass. It typically has three or four contrasting sections or strains that are 16 or 32 measures in length. “Cake walk” appears on piano music covers in the 1870s; however, the music does not show typical cakewalk features yet. Sheet music became very profitable at the beginning of the twentieth century and ragtime was part of the commercial success.
Playing the piano became popular and prompted piano sales and sheet music sales among the middle class. Playing the piano became useful qualities for jobs and these new jobs were held by white women. The piano was the most popular instrument played by women throughout the nineteenth century and became part of the middle-class education for girls. Consumers of ragtime sheet music generally included women; however, white women and black women were portrayed different. African Americans were portrayed in a degrading manner while white women were portrayed positively. Most ragtime women composed ragtime in their twenties and typically stopped them after marriage. Three hundred ragtime women composers contributed to the history of the genre. Popular women composers in ragtime include Sadie Koninsky, Adaline Shepherd, Gladis Yelvington, and Julia Lee Niebergall. Europeans visited the United States and took African American Ragtime back with them and Europeans began to imitate them. Ragtime and jazz were used synonymously to describe the same genre of music.