A uniquely American syncopated music and precursor to jazz.
Famous for its syncopated rhythm, ragtime reached its peak popularity between 1895 and 1919. Influenced by the music played during cakewalk dances (dance contests for enslaved people on plantations that awarded cakes as prizes), banjo music, and the jigs of the British Isles, its popularity spread from the southern and midwestern states across the world. Although its heyday was short-lived compared to other Black music genres, it had a profound influence on the development of jazz.
The word ragtime derives from “ragged music,” which refers to its syncopated rhythm. Primarily a piano-specific genre, it was adapted for other instruments. The right hand usually did the complicated rhythm, while the left kept a steady beat. The popularity and demand for ragtime boosted the sale of pianos across the United States.
Ragtime players did not improvise from the sheet music, which was an essential difference between it and the jazz music that followed — a trait it shared with classical music. In fact, ragtime profoundly influenced European classical composers of the era, such as Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky.
It brings joy to me when ofttimes sad at heart
Her picture I can see, and sad thoughts then depart
Although my love is dead, my only darling Grace
My eyes are ofttimes looking on a picture of her face
From A Picture of Her Face by Scott Joplin
The King of Ragtime.
A pivotal artist during the transition from ragtime to jazz.
Composer of “The St. Louis Blues."
Religious folksong born from African enslavement in America.