The Ragtime Nightmare by Tom Turpin (St. Louis, MO: Robt. DeYoung & Co., 1900). Performing Arts reading Room, Library that Congress.

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Ragtime, a uniquely American, syncopated music phenomenon, has actually been a solid presence in musical composition, entertainment, and scholarship because that over a century. It emerged in the published form during the mid-1890s and also quickly spread across the continent via released compositions. By the beforehand 1900s ragtime flooded the music posting industry. The popularity and demand because that ragtime likewise boosted revenue of pianos and greatly swelled the ranking of the record industry. Ragtime seemed to emanate generally from the southern and midwestern states with the majority of task occurring in Missouri -- although the East and also West coasts likewise had their share the composers and performers. Ragtime"s popular promptly spread to Europe and there, together in America, soon came to be a fad.

It is not easy to define ragtime. Choose jazz, one more distinctly American musical art form, ragtime"s composers, practitioners, and admirers each check out its borders differently. However, these groups are differentiated by subgroups of purists who generally agree on, and also stand by, a precise definition:

Ragtime -- A genre of musical composition because that the piano, generally in duple meter and also containing a highly syncopated treble lead over a rhythmically steady bass. A ragtime composition is typically composed 3 or four contrasting sections or strains, every one being 16 or 32 actions in length.

This definition describes much of the music that the itinerant pianists that traversed the South and also Midwest and eventually congregated in Missouri to produce an oeuvre of core ragtime compositions. This roving composers incorporate Scott Joplin, Charles Hunter, thomas Turpin, louis Chauvin, Charles L. Johnson, and also many others.

Some ragtime scholars suggest out the ragtime is composed chiefly for an audience -- a pianistic work-related not supposed for dancing. The is a genre distinctive from other types of syncopated music compositions from around the same period -- because that example, "coon songs" and cakewalks -- the latter particularly composed for dancing.

But our definition cannot be cut-and-dried, because that "ragtime" once described the peppy, syncopated therapy of practically any type of music -- that is just how it was well-known to the public at large. Ragtime became a very real fad that extended a wide selection of styles and even prospered to describe things non-musical. Much like absent "n" roll, hefty metal, jazz, and also other renowned genres the music, ragtime invite "the curiosity and even devotion of the young in ~ the same time the disquiets the staid and established ... Ragtime produced an attitude and also defined an era that reached beyond the music." (Real Ragtime booklet, 4)

Ragtime, the word, probably started life as a summary of musical meter and also certainly preceded the development of the music of Joplin, Scott, and also others. It was component of the late 19th century-lexicon to use "-time" together a suffix to define a kind of music by the qualities of its rhythm. Because that instance, waltzes were referred to as being "in waltz-time." "March-time" and also "jig-time" likewise described the meter, simple rhythm, and role of style. Nearly certainly, however, the ax is a contraction because that "ragged time," denoting a format of play piano or banjo whereby the melody is "broken up" into short, syncopated rhythms when a steady overall beat is either played (piano) or comprise (banjo). Acquisition a simple, conventional, and also unsyncopated melody and also breaking increase the rate was recognized as "ragging," therefore, the result music was said to be in "ragged time."

Americans were very first exposed come ragtime, en masse, at the Chicago World"s same in 1893. That is reported that some 27 million people passed with the fair gates in between May and October of that year. In 1896 "rag" and also "rag time" were offered to describe some recently published "coon songs," finish with outrageous parodies that black society and speech. Amongst them to be "All Coons watch Alike to Me," created by black entertainer, Ernest Hogan. The second chorus available a syncopated accompaniment, written by Max Hoffman, along with the subtitle "Choice Chorus with Negro "Rag" Accompaniment." likewise during 1896, the cover of Ben Harney"s track "You"ve been a good Old Wagon yet You Done broke Down" featured a banner proclaiming "Original Introducer to the phase of the brand-new popular "Rag Time."" The following year observed the first published piano rags beginning with W. H. Krell"s "Mississippi Rag."

Syncopation -- The "Misplaced" Beat

Ragtime was both exciting and also threatening come America"s youth and staid polite society, respectively. The excitement come from syncopation--the displacing that the beat from its regular and also assumed course of meter. Syncopation brought about an individual to feel a propulsion, swing, and also if played correctly, a musical looseness typically unknown to the general public at large. The threat came indigenous the really same displaced beat the evoked a solid connotation to the "low-class" negro music found in brothels and saloons. The Midwest, specifically postbellum Missouri, was rife through saloons, brothels, and cabarets--all cg-tower.comations where a pianist v a kind repertoire can earn a kind living.

The syncopated motif:


when counted in 2/4-time returns a feel of "short - long - short," (with a fourth sound added for definition), is the most typical syncope found in ragtime. It originates from the cakewalk, a high-stepping dance popularized top top the minstrel stage and which regularly served as the show"s finale. Syncopations in the genre of piano ragtime room varied and intricate and simple.

This motif and also more complex syncopations were frequently heard in "head" music (music played entirely by ear) performed in the Caribbean, the southern states, and the Georgia Sea Islands. However, they are rarely found in released American music before the mid-1880s.

The complexities that non-written or "head syncopations" heard in rhythms the black slaves are handle by music chronicler H. Wiley Hitchcock. He defines that the "...emphatic use of syncopation through American Negroes, partly derived from afri drumming, partly acquired from Afro-Caribbean dance rhythms." he then estimates from an 1835 letter come Edgar Allan Poe in i beg your pardon a friend describes a musical performance of some servants in a practice recognized as "clapping Juba" ("Juba" is assumed to refer to the English dance-name "jig.") The text is a remarkable testimony come the survival of syncopated elements in afri drumming:

"There is no effort to save time to all the notes, but then it come so beat & so distinct that the cadence is never ever lost. . . Together irregularities are favor rests and grace notes. They have to be so regulated as no to hasten or retard the beat. The moment of the bar must be the same, no matter how numerous notes space in it." (Music in the unified States, 120)

Much that what became the key ingredients that ragtime came from self-taught and largely uneducated musicians: slaves; hill individual of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and the Carolinas; and minstrel-troupe musicians. The popularity and portability that the banjo, guitar, mandolin, and violin made these the instruments of an option for these itinerant musicians.

Banjo and Fiddle

It is not easy to phone call when and where this lively, rhythmically propulsive music began, yet it is possible to suggest to part very particular roots and to see it bear fruit. Despite the evidence is not negligible, couple of contemporary writings chronicle the role that the banjo played in the development of ragtime. In a significant comment made in 1881, the essayist Lafcadio Hearn wrote, "Did you ever before hear negroes pat the piano by ear?... They usage the piano specifically like a banjo. The is good banjo-playing however no piano-playing." (Ragtime: its History, Composers, and Music, 54, 58) In 1899 the music movie critic Rupert Hughes used the term "banjo figurations" to describe the piano ragtime that he had heard.

These peculiar rhythms and melodies had another source -- the fiddle music the British Isles immigrants played to individual dances such together the jig and reel. "Turkey in the Straw," additionally known as "Old Zip Coon," for example, is thought to be of Scottish origin. This string music reveals the beginning of a commonly used rhythmic device in ragtime, recognized as "secondary rag" -- a simple, repeated, three-note motif that provides the listener a temporary off-center feeling by imposing an also pulse of 3 over a series of duple measures.


by the mid-1850s this ragged rhythms were finding their method into released banjo solos and also methods. Much of this earlier published product came from the minstrel stage and also was offered an "Ethiopic" theme supposed to evoke the plantation and the South. No all Ethiopic themed music had syncopation--quite a little bit of it included sentimental songs that evoked the themes of fondness for the South, the plantation, "Massa," and other facets of slavery. But, syncopation rarely uncovered its" way onto the printed page--a nod maybe to the concept that it was challenging music come play uneven you had actually an innate feeling for it.

The heart of Ragtime

Missouri, situated in the facility of America, to be the heartland of ragtime. As detailed by famous music chroniclers David Jasen and Gene Jones, "There were an ext rags--and more great rags--from Missouri than almost everywhere else." (That American Rag, 1) probably it was the durable pioneer heart that thrived in Missouri that created the setting for music choose ragtime come flourish.

"...Missouri to be destined by its cg-tower.comation to it is in an area of commercial, social, and cultural change. Because the at an early stage nineteenth century, St. Louis has actually served as midpoint and also stopover because that north-south traffic on our largest river, and also when walk west to be a national imperative, the city was the "Gateway come the West."" (TAR, 1)

During the 1880s, black entrepreneurs flourished in the sporting ar of St. Louis, well-known as Chestnut Valley. Man L. Turpin, a black color businessman indigenous Savannah, Georgia, made St. Louis his residence in 1887 and opened a saloon called the silver Dollar.

Turpin"s teenage son, Tom, followed closely in his father"s footsteps and by 1897 had actually opened his an initial saloon. That very same year, young Turpin, additionally a self-taught pianist, had actually his ingredient "Harlem Rag" published by a regional lawyer. "Harlem Rag" was a specifying piece the piano ragtime and also a design for the composers.

By 1900 Tom Turpin had acquired sufficient funding to open up a new saloon and brothel, the Rosebud. His 2 young protégés, Joe Jordan and also Louis Chauvin, frequented the establishment. With the continuous rollicking, buoyant sound that ragtime, Turpin, Jordan, Chauvin, and also many various other enthusiastic advocates of the brand-new music, do the Rosebud and also St. Louis the resources of ragtime.

The continual flow that traffic v St. Louis and the remainder of the state developed a need for accommodations and amenities for travelers. "As Missouri gentrified it became a state where a piano player can make a great living." (TAR, 2) as their salaries usually were nominal, the nomadic pianists make their finest money native tips noted by the patrons of the many saloons and brothels the employed them.

It should be provided that once their music was eventually published, however, their royalties, although welcomed, to be insignificant. Around a dozen brave publishers risked putting some of this engaging, new music on revenue to the public.

The most influential and also memorable publisher was john Stark, a Civil war veteran and also peripatetic ice cream salesman that loved music. He cleared up in Sedalia in 1886, opened a music store, and also eventually turned to publishing. Distinct met Scott Joplin in 1899 once the last came into Stark"s keep to demonstrate his still unpublished "Maple sheet Rag." although Stark was impressed through the musicality that the piece, the technical challenge of the piece led the to inquiry its salability.

After some encouragement native his son, man Stark agreed come publish "Maple leaf Rag" thus beginning a financially rewarding business connection for himself and Joplin and insuring immortality because that ragtime. Through 1914 "Maple sheet Rag" had sold 1 million copies and Stark had actually amassed over 50 rags in his catalog.

In addition to Joplin, Stark"s steady of ragtime composers had James Scott, Joseph Lamb, Artie Mathews, J. Russell Robinson, and also others. Stark"s original assessment and also question about ragtime came to be a reality--it was delightful come the ear and also heart although challenging to perform. He involved refer come the rag selections in his directory as "classic rags." created by musicians of very high standards, they forced a polished pianistic capability to execute them correctly. As a result, most of the "classic rags" were not bestsellers.

Missouri was likewise home come composer Arthur Pryor, that was born in St. Joseph in or around 1870. Pryor flourished up playing in his father"s band. Ideal known as a trombonist, Pryor wrote some of the most successful ragtime selections that the era. Few of his better-known rag titles are: "A Coon tape Contest," "Razzazza Mazzazza," "That paris Rag," and "Frozen Bill." Although these compositions were released as piano solos, they achieved greater fame as band selections.

As assistant conductor and solo trombonist because that the famed band of john Philip Sousa, Arthur Pryor aided spread the ragtime heat to Europe when the Sousa tape toured over there in 1900. Not just did he compose many of the band"s ragtime material, yet he also taught the Sousa musicians exactly how to beat the syncopations in a relaxed, unhurried way--the way that he heard it earlier in Missouri.

The Sound of Ragtime

through the beforehand 1890s americans had come to be infatuated v the multi-strained "March and also two-step," i beg your pardon was usually the same as a march. Constantly in 2/4 or 6/8 meter, there was something stirring and also optimistic around these pieces. Both meters yield a "two feel," however 6/8 has its intrinsic triple feel the creates a significant swing. In fact, 6/8 two-steps were often referred to together "swings" together were the procedures danced come them.

The ragtime compositions by Joplin and also his circle were exclusively in duple meter and had a various sort of swing come them. A 6/8 two-step urged a more aerobic layout of dance because of its wide swing. Ragtime"s syncopations within the measure (and frequently over the measure), however, brought about smaller and more gyrating run steps, resulting in a series of well-known "animal" dances such as the grizzly bear, hare hug, turkey trot, and also others.

Syncopation in ragtime to be varied and also more complicated than the an easy cakewalk. The syncopated rhythms discovered in the finest rags were meant to evoke a looseness, natural flow, and also drive recreated by reading and performing the music precisely as written. If performed correctly, the impact of the syncopation against the steady duple meter bass produced an air of excitement and also spontaneity not inherently found in most published music the the time.

The Fad

Ragtime was almost everywhere by the early on 1900s--in paper music, piano rolls, phonograph records, and ragtime piano playing contests, and also in music boxes, vaudeville theaters, and also bordellos. Publishing residences churned the end piano rags and ragtime song at a furious pace. Ragtime also appeared in arrangements for orchestras and also wind bands. The majority of this music was the renowned sort the ragtime the was cranked out largely by believe Pan Alley hacks. As with all varieties of music, over there is constantly a bigger sector for a less subtle, much more digestible variation of the original, more complicated, form.

The press overreacted around ragtime eroding mores. In January 1900 the music monthly The Etude, in a piece entitled "Musical Impurity" noted: "The counters that the music stores room loaded v this virulent poison which in the form of a malarious epidemic, is finding its way into the homes and brains that the youth to such an extent as to arouse one"s suspicions of your sanity." it went top top to describe the melodic valuation of ragtime as "double-jointed jumping jack airs that reasonably twist the ears of an education musician from their anchorage."

The Fad Fades

"Ragtime" as a catchall surname for syncopated popular music remained well-known through the 1910s. Ragtime"s popularity faded around 1917 with the rise of another catchall term--"jazz"--used to explain peppy, noisy, famous music. Note that musicians energetic in new Orleans throughout the at an early stage 1900s who were later well-known as "jazz musicians" frequently, if no always, described the warm music cg-tower.comk played together "ragtime."

It can be stated categorically, however, the the ragtime music the Joplin, Joseph Lamb, James Scott, and also others had actually become almost forgotten by 1920. Joseph Lamb"s very own daughter walk not discover out that her father to be a well-known composer the ragtime until the dawn of his comeback during the 1950s. Ragtime did not disappear, nor to be it "replaced" through jazz. However, it seems to have actually been supplanted through the novelty piano style that to be ironically based upon many the the traits discovered in ragtime--traits the had end up being anachronistic through 1920.

Novelty and Stride Piano

The technical needs of play the functions of Joplin, et al., room not inconsiderable. Your music demanded an approach as a means to expression. What remained in the public"s ear through 1920 to be the virtuosic, technical elements of piano ragtime. The genre was well-known as "novelty piano" -- regularly referred to now as "novelty ragtime."

Ragtime scholar Ed Berlin points the end that "novelty piano" is a latter-day term that was never used by its composers. (Ragtime: A musical and cultural History, 162) Nonetheless, that sprang the end of a parody on the sound that ragtime played maybe too fast--replete through wrong notes, humorous harmonic effects, the already clichéd an additional rag, and also even the sound the a player piano slightly the end of adjustment.

Novelty piano is no a disrespectful or nonmusical art. On the contrary, the incorporates both method as a way to itself and the harmonic devices found in older classic piano music. The very first hit that this genre, "Kitten top top the Keys," appeared in July 1921. Written by Elzear "Zez" Confrey (1895-1971), the item was filled through tricky syncopations, inexplicable harmonic gadgets (such together strings that augmented chords, totality tone runs, parallel fourths) the somehow offered the listener the impression of humorously play wrong notes, and also sudden shifts of key. Despite being complicated to play, "Kitten on the Keys" sold 1 million duplicates during its an initial year that publication. (Rags and Ragtime: A musical History, 215)

Similarly, stride piano, which arisen in and around Harlem, brand-new York, during the 1910s by mainly black pianists, was never ever referred to together ragtime. Nonetheless, the composers and also performers--such together James P. Johnson, thomas "Fats" Waller, C. Luckyeth "Lucky" Roberts, and others were absolutely well acquainted through ragtime and also used its components as a suggest of departure.

The strong kinship amongst stride, novelty, and also ragtime was the fact that all 3 were generally composed as multi-strained pieces. cg-tower.comk were additionally pianistically conceived and were not intended for dancing. Both novelty and also stride piano are typically performed at ragtime festivals today.

Ragtime Returns

although ragtime was no a huge attraction throughout the 1930s and 1940s, it to be still played, and not simply by pianists. Oftentimes a dance band videotaped an up-to-date swing version of "Maple sheet Rag." But much more often 보다 not, ragtime, once offered, would certainly be played as quaint nostalgia with its features parodied.

But ragtime additionally had advocates--its composers, practitioners, and also admirers. That latter, Rudi Blesh was considerably responsible for re-popularizing ragtime. Blesh, a college student of art, architecture, and early jazz, come to brand-new York native Berkeley, California, in 1945, while composing a book around the history of jazz. He and also his colleague and also companion, Harriet Janis, began Circle documents shortly thereafter.

Circle to be the very first record label to worry recordings from Jelly roll Morton"s 1938 recordings made in ~ the Library that Congress. These recordings prompted lot enthusiasm about early jazz styles and also ragtime. One Records additionally issued a 3-disc album by jazz clarinetist Tony Parenti and his "Ragtimers," one ad-hoc jazz band playing ragtime based loosely on old stock arrangements. The album consisted of Joplin"s "Swipesy Cake Walk" and also James Scott"s "Grace and Beauty." The mix of this jazzmen"s sensibilities combined with the formality that the old written arrangements yielded impressive results.

Blesh and also Janis set about researching ragtime in earnest. Their monumental publication They all Played Ragtime was published in 1950.

During the 1950s ragtime to be the layout of countless record albums, however usually was treated together a caricature. Ragtime was commonly played on pianos particularly rigged come sound the end of song or perhaps with thumbtacks in the hammers to evoke the sound that old-time saloon pianos. Regardless of such comical treatments, ragtime began to it is in heard with more frequency and respect 보다 it had been in three decades. In 1959 and also 1960 Max Morath, a talented pianist and also entertainer who had actually some experience directing in television, developed a successful 12-part routine entitled "The Ragtime Years" for national Educational Television. Due to the fact that then, Max Morath and ragtime have become inextricably attached in the public"s mind.

The 1968 Columbia records release that "The Eighty-Six years of Eubie Blake" was one more milestone in the comeback of ragtime. Blake, a expert composer and pianist was additionally one of the creators that the 1921 show "Shuffle Along" critical and ground break all-black music revue. Together a son Blake studied piano officially at house in Baltimore. But he supplied to sneak the end at night come hear the pianists in the low-down saloons nearby.

Blake"s wide range of musical endeavors (including one ever-growing classic technique) led the to become familiar, even expert in ragtime. He eventually composed a number of fine rags himself. As his 1968 record shows, he to be a vastly entertaining, an important performer--dexterous that hand and also quick-witted.

Blake swiftly uncovered a brand-new career--traveling the world and also appearing on the concert stage. He likewise was a frequent guest top top late-night tv talk shows, wherein he was always introduced come the millions viewers together a ragtime pianist.

In 1970 ragtime competent a huge renaissance. Nonesuch records was the very first classical label to worry an album that ragtime; "Piano Rags by Scott Joplin," carry out by composer, conductor, and musicologist Joshua Rifkin, produced a sensation and quickly became a bestseller. Rifkin"s technique was the of a classical pianist. At the same time he was respectful of the low-down element too without resorting to any type of caricature. His play of Joplin showed an knowledge of the natural swing and looseness the these pieces were supposed to evoke. The an initial album to be a remarkable success and also was easily followed by two an ext volumes.

The 1974 motion snapshot "The Sting" introduced the widest audience yet to the music of Scott Joplin. Back the an option of Joplin"s music because that a story collection in the 1930s was historically inaccurate, the music underscored and also supported the activity on the screen perfectly. As a result, Joplin"s "The Entertainer" saw the top of the pop record charts.

In 1972, Scott Joplin"s ragtime-infused opera, Treemonisha, was revived. Joplin spent the critical years that his life struggling to find a producer because that his opera. He regulated only to have actually it double performed, as soon as staged, and once done as a read-through. Joplin passed away in 1917, broken by the struggle. However, Treemonisha was later accorded that due--in 1976, the earned a special Pulitzer Prize and also in 1983, a postage rubber stamp was authorize bearing Joplin"s likeness.

Since the 1970s and the renaissance of ragtime there has actually been a great deal of task in the cg-tower.comations of live performance, festivals, and also scholarship in the field. Public radio has featured numerous series devoted to ragtime such as terrycloth Waldo"s "This is Ragtime" and also Galen Wilke"s "It"s Rag Time!" Talented composers such together Trebor Tichenor, David thomas Roberts, Scott Kirby, and many others have actually made lasting contribute to the ragtime repertoire. There space ragtime institutions throughout the nation such as The classic Ragtime society of Indiana, The northern Virginia Ragtime Society, The Sacramento Ragtime Society, and many others. There is also a ragtime-influenced blend style referred to as "terre verde" for which some contemporary ragtimers are actively composing and performing.

There have also been good advances in ragtime scholarship. Many fine books around ragtime have been published and also there have been countless theses and also dissertations created on the subject.

Ragtime, like any type of other music, must be heard and really can not be defined by words--just as words cannot be identified by music. However through much more than 100 years, ragtime has had actually no problem making its presence known and also its composers, performers, and also admirers all look front to its future.



Berlin, Ed. Ragtime: A musical and cultural History. Berkeley and Los Angeles: college of California Press, 1980.

Berlin, Ed. Reflections and Research on Ragtime. New York: institute for researches in American Music, Brooklyn College, 1987.

Jasen, David, and also Gene Jones. That American Rag: The Story the Ragtime from shore to Coast. Brand-new York: Schirmer, 2000.

Jasen, David A., and Trebor Jay Tichenor. Rags and also Ragtime: A musical History. Brand-new York: The Seabury Press, 1978.

Hitchcock, H. Wiley. Music in the unified States: A historic Introduction. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Hasse, john Edward, ed. Ragtime: the History, Composers, and also Music. Brand-new York: Schirmer, 1985.

Periodicals and Newspapers:

The Brooklyn everyday Eagle. Might 14, 1901:1.

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The Brooklyn everyday Eagle. Respectable 11, 1902:11.

"Musical Impurity." Etude 18 (January 1900): 16.

Recordings: Compact Discs:

"Real Ragtime: disc Recordings indigenous its Heyday" (Booklet notes by Richard Martin and also David Sager). Archeophone Records, Arch. 1001A.