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Ragtime music has the distinction of being the first uniquely American music ever to be recorded. It came about, in the late 1800's in the red-light districts and dives in Southern United States cities, like New Orleans and St. Louis, that the people were dancing to this weird, syncopated, intoxicating beat.
It was happy music, wild and free, a liberation to all those waltzing debutantes.
Ragtime took America by storm with the popularization of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag", in 1899.
Ginger Rogers Dances the Charleston
The Walnut Street Dixie Ramblers
The unique sound came from our black American heritage, with its syncopated rhythms and quick, vivid changes. Unique American music genres fused from that great, crazy rhythm. Jazz, boogie-woogie, stride and honky-tonk music, along with bluegrass music, were derived from ragtime music. Ultimately, ragtime music made its contribution to rock 'n' roll.
Ragtime is the American equivalent of Minuets by Mozart, Mazurkas by Chopin, or Waltzes by Brahms, in that the music drove the dances; composers were composing the music to dance to. Ragtime even influenced 20th century art musicians including Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky, with its flavorful melody lines, harmonic progressions, and complicated metric patterns.
Ragtime sounds so happy, cheerful, upbeat--you just have to try and dance to it. But (and you'll know this if you ever tried to play it!) it isn't simple music. It isn't that easy to play!
The dances of the ragtime era were giggly, uninhibited, wild and free, and include such classics as:
- The Cakewalk
- The Charleston
- The Two-Step
- The Black Bottom
- The Jelly Roll
- The Fox Trot
- The Quickstep
- The Jitterbug
The first recorded music with widespread availability in America (and elsewhere!) was recorded for the player piano on piano rolls. "Maple Leaf Rag" was one of the best-selling piano rolls. Everyone loved it!
Ragtime was first popular in the late 1890's and early 1900's. It experienced three distinct revivals over time; the first, in the early 1940's, when recording technology made 78 RPM (revolutions per minute) records available to the general public and it was possible to record a complex, multi-level style of ragtime music. Ragtime went vinyl!! It revived again, in the late 1950's, mostly because of the dances--the Charleston and the Jitterbug and the Cakewalk experienced a revival at that time; and then once again, in 1971, with Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" ragtime music making it to No. 3 on the pop music charts, because of the movie, "The Sting".