3 Genre-Shaping Ragtime Artists to Know

At the turn of the 20th century, ragtime music was all the rage. It was music to dance to as well as music to pass on oral traditions. Created by recently freed Blacks who couldn’t then read or write music, ragtime is famous for its syncopated, yet pleasantly herky-jerky rhythms.

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The music, which often included several different movements and musical themes, helped influence later jazz artists. Truly, ragtime is a joyous sound that, when heard, could easily inspire improvisation and collective happy outbursts.

Because Blacks weren’t allowed in many spaces after emancipation, many performed music in more fringe locales like bars and brothels. In 1895, the first ragtime song was published, “La Pas Ma La” by musical comedian Ernest Hogan.

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According to the “king of ragtime” Scott Joplin, the music has been “in America ever since the Negro race has been here, but the white people took no notice of it until about twenty years ago [in the 1890s].” He told the Black newspaper New York Age that in 1913.

So, for more on the jaunty genre, let’s dive in here below. These are three ragtime artists to know.

1. Scott Joplin

The biggest name in the musical style, Scott Joplin is known especially for songs like “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag.” Born on November 24, 1868, Joplin lived to be 49 years old. He passed away in New York City. In between, he helped popularize the smile-inducing, shoulder-shaking genre.

In Missouri prior to the turn of the century, Joplin, after attending the World’s Fair in Chicago and helping to promote the sound, started to teach piano. Some of his students, including Scott Hayden, would go on to be stars in the genre. More than 50 years after his death, Joplin was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1976. Today, Joplin is considered one of the big three in ragtime, which also includes James Scott and Joseph Lamb.

2. Jelly Roll Morton

Ragtime jazz piano player Jelly Roll Morton was born in 1890 in New Orleans. Morton, who came several years after Joplin, helped to bridge ragtime with jazz. In fact, he was the first person to arrange jazz music, which proved the style could have structure and not just improvisation. While he also claimed to have invented jazz, that was a stretch. But his contributions to ragtime and jazz remain significant.

3. Buddy Bolden

Sadly, there are no Buddy Bolden recordings today. That’s because the artist never made any. Yet, he may well be the most significant musician of the past 200 years. Born September 6, 1877, in New Orleans, Bolden was instrumental in the creation and popularization of ragtime and “jass,” later jazz. A cornet player, Bolden was known for his loud playing and his brash band. With his ragtime music, Bolden blended blues with the genre and helped foster new sounds and attitudes. His most famous song is “Funky Butt,” inspired by the dank rooms where people would listen to music and dance.

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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