Women of Ragtime: Sadie Koninsky
Written By: Mauranne Vernier

The origins of Ragtime have a dark history. It was a music genre that essentially mocked African Americans. There were Black composers but white people profited more particularly white women. Women like Sadie Koninsky benefited financially from the mocking of Black people. 

Biography

Sadie Koninsky (August 1879 – January 2, 1952) was an American composer, music publisher, and music teacher who lived in Troy, New York. She was the youngest out of five children. Her mother was British, and her father was German/Polish. Her father owned a second-hand clothing and bedding store. As a young child, she trained classically to play the violin; this was the beginning of her music career.

 

Her first public composition was in 1894. The Belles of Andalusia was a soothing waltz. Then in 1895, she followed with The Minstrel King. However, her most famous composition was Eli Green’s Cake Walk.

 

Sadie Koninsky and her brother went into business in the early 1900s after the success of her compositions. The family business was known as “Edw. M. Koninsky & Brothers” it was a music publishing company. During that period, Sadie’s arrangements were under the name “Jerome Hartman,” likely since the music industry wasn’t taking her seriously due to her gender.

She went on to create her own publishing company called Goodwyn Music Publishers in the 1920s. Additionally, she was a music teacher in her community.

History of Ragtime

Ragtime music existed before the term was created. Many elements were included in ragtime like the Cakewalk which was a dance that mimicked the behavior of the white upper class. It was performed by African Americans and whoever had the best dance usually one cake. Another element was the coon song which became popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was a stereotyped view of African Americans often performed by white singers in blackface.

Sheet music publishing became extremely profitable during the ragtime era. White women benefited remarkably. They were able to become sales clerks in music shops, become professional pianists. Black women were not afforded the luxury of taking part financially in the publishing industry. Successful women ragtime composers include Sadie Koninsky, Adaline Shepherd’s, Irene M. Giblin, and many more. 

Contribution to Ragtime

Sadie Koninsky was a white woman capable of achieving the tone of a Black composed catwalk. She recorded and published over 300 compositions. Her catwalk, “Eli Green’s Cakewalk,” was the first catwalk published by a woman. She opened the door for other women to create compositions like Charlotte Blake and May Aufderheide.

Conclusion

Sadie Koninsky was a talented and successful woman but at what cost? She was able to publish 300 compositions and was compensated for her publishing. Black women were stereotyped and denied access to receive compensation for their music. White women were allowed to enter Black spaces and create compositions that African Americans danced to in order to please white people. It leaves the question of who did Ragtime benefit? African Americans or White people?

Compositions

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