Ragtime – also spelled rag-time or rag time[1] – is a musical style that enjoyed its peak popularity between 1895 and 1918.[2] Its cardinal trait is its syncopated or "ragged" rhythm.[2]


Scott Joplin achieved fame for his ragtime compositions and was dubbed the "King of Ragtime".

Origins of Ragtime music

The style has its origins in African-American communities in cities such as St. Louis.[3][4]

Ernest Hogan (1865–1909) was a pioneer of ragtime and was the first composer to have his ragtime pieces (or "rags") published as sheet music, beginning with the song "La Pas Ma La" published in 1895. Hogan has been credited with coining the term "ragtime". The term is derived from his hometown "Shake Rag" in Bowling Green, Kentucky.[citation needed] Ben Harney, another Kentucky native, has often been credited with introducing the music to the mainstream public. His first ragtime composition, "You've Been a Good Old Wagon But You Done Broke Down", helped popularize the style. The composition was published in 1896, a few months after Hogan's "La Pas Ma La".[5][6]

Ragtime was also a modification of the march style popularized by John Philip Sousa, with additional polyrhythms coming from African music.[7] Ragtime composer Scott Joplin (ca. 1868–1917) became famous through the publication of the "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899) and a string of ragtime hits such as "The Entertainer" (1902), although he was later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados until the major ragtime revival in the early 1970s.[8][9] For at least 12 years after its publication, "Maple Leaf Rag" heavily influenced subsequent ragtime composers with its melody lines, harmonic progressions or metric patterns.[10]

Ragtime fell out of favor as jazz claimed the public's imagination after 1917, but there have been numerous revivals since the music has been re-discovered. First in the early 1940s, many jazz bands began to include ragtime in their repertoire and put out ragtime recordings on 78 rpm records. A more significant revival occurred in the 1950s as a wider variety of ragtime genres of the past were made available on records, and new rags were composed, published, and recorded. In 1971 Joshua Rifkin brought out a compilation of Joplin's work which was nominated for a Grammy Award.[11]

In 1973 The New England Ragtime Ensemble (then a student group called The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble) recorded The Red Back Book, a compilation of some of Joplin's rags in period orchestrations edited by conservatory president Gunther Schuller. This also won a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance of the year and was named Top Classical Album of 1974 by Billboard magazine. The movie The Sting (1973) brought ragtime to a wide audience with its soundtrack of Joplin tunes. The film's rendering of "The Entertainer", adapted and orchestrated by Marvin Hamlisch, was a Top 5 hit in 1975.

Ragtime – with Joplin's work at the forefront – has been cited as an American equivalent of the minuets of Mozart, the mazurkas of Chopin, or the waltzes of Brahms.[12] Ragtime also influenced classical composers including Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, and Igor Stravinsky.[13][14]

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