So much of American popular music comes from or has been influenced by African-American culture. Ragtime is a fun one to get to know with your children. Ragtime brings together the polyrhythms (two rhythms played at the same time) of African music and the march beats made popular by John Philip Sousa. It enjoyed its peak popularity between 1895 and 1918. It gets its name from its syncopated or “ragged” rhythm.
Here are a few ragtime favorites that you should get to know.
You have probably heard of Ragtime composer Scott Joplin (ca. 1868–1917) because of his famous “Maple Leaf Rag” (1899) and “The Entertainer” (1902). 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. Ragtime had was mostly forgotten until the major ragtime revival in the early 1970s, after Joplin’s songs were the soundtrack for the movie “The Sting.” Now you may hear it in commercials, TV shows and movies.
Maple Leaf Rag
This is a recording of Maple Leaf Rag. Before there were records, piano rolls were an easy way to get “recordings” or popular musicians playing their songs. People would have player pianos in bars and homes. This video shows a piano roll that was actually recorded on piano roll by Scott Joplin himself. This piano roll was found in the wrong box on eBay apparently, and turned out to be a long lost Joplin recording.
While his ragtime songs might not be super well known today, Eubie Blake was very well known throughout his life and on television throughout the 1970s. His career spanned a time when music experiences vast changes. Born Feb. 7, 1887, Baltimore, MD, Eubie was an American pianist and composer of ragtime music, popular and vaudeville tunes, and scores for musical theater. Blake’s parents were former slaves, and he was involved with music from a very young age.
While out shopping with his mother when he was 4 or 5, he wandered into a music store, climbed on the bench of an organ, and started “foolin’ around”. When his mother found him, the store manager said to her, “The child is a genius! It would be criminal to deprive him of the chance to make use of such a sublime, God-given talent.” So they found a way to afford a pump organ, and he began to play at home. As a teenager he played piano in saloons. And by his 20s performed at the Goldfield Hotel in Baltimore, as well as at several clubs in Atlantic City. He continued composing throughout his life and composed scores for Broadway as well as films. He died Feb. 12, 1983 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Here’s Eubie Blake in this video performing his “Charleston Rag” at the
“Philharmonie”, Berlin (Germany), November 4, 1972. He was 12 years old when he composed the “Charleston Rag” in 1899.
I love watching this video of the player piano roll. Even if you cannot read music, you can see how the dots are different for each hand. The left hand tends to be short dots, while the right hand tends to be long lines.
Jelly Roll Morton
Born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, Jelly Roll Morton is better known for being the first person to publish a jazz composition. But he composed various popular styles while touring the American South, starting in 1904, as part of minstrel shows. One of the songs written during this time was a ragtime standard – King Porter Stomp.
King Porter Stomp
On the YouTube videos, click the settings gear icon and play with the video speed. It’s fun to hear what these complicated songs sound like slower or faster than how they’re supposed to be played.