Christensen's Ragtime Review
The term "ragtime" took on new shades of meaning in the first decades of the 20th century. Originally defined as the "classic rag" style of African-American piano players in the 1880s and 1890s, it described a unique style in which the pianist "ragged" or syncopated the rhythms. Later, however, "ragtime" came to signify a world of popular entertainment that had been sterilized for general...
History of Ragtime
Ragtime, a uniquely American, syncopated musical phenomenon, has been a strong presence in musical composition, entertainment, and scholarship for over a century. It emerged in its published form during the mid-1890s and quickly spread across the continent via published compositions. By the early 1900s ragtime flooded the music publishing industry. The popularity and demand for ragtime also boosted sale of pianos and greatly swelled...
Scott Joplin composed three works for the stage. The first, The Ragtime Dance, depicted a typical African-American dance gathering; it was performed in 1899 at the Black 400 Club in Sedalia, Missouri. The second work, A Guest of Honor, about Booker T. Washington's dinner with Teddy Roosevelt at the White House, premiered in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1903. Joplin took the production on...
Ragtime music adapted to the unique style and invention of each composer and musician. Certain rags, however, particularly those by Scott Joplin and the composers who published with John Stark & Son, can be categorized as "classic." These instrumental rags fit a certain musical structure.
Scott Joplin, 1868-1917
Biography. Biography. Scott Joplin's is the name perhaps most associated with ragtime. Born sometime between the summer of 1867 and mid-January 1868, Joplin's career took him from a modest homestead on the Texas-Arkansas border to New York's Tin Pan Alley New York City, where he would eventually try his luck with composers like a young Irving Berlin. Although he continued composing until just before...
Ben Harney, 1872-1938
Biography. Biography. Ben R. Harney has been credited as the musician who did the most to introduce ragtime to audiences throughout the world. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1871, Harney's racial origins have long been debated. Some people, among them Eubie Blake, claimed that he was a black man passing as white. Others maintained that Harney was a white man so thoroughly inspired by...
John Stark, 1841-1927
Biography. Biography. John Stillwell Stark was born in Kentucky in 1841. His family moved to Indiana, where he grew up on a farm.
Joseph Lamb, 1887-1960
Biography. Biography. Joseph Lamb was born in Montclair, New Jersey, in December 1877. A family man who was an anomaly in the contemporary music world, Lamb shunned the ups and downs of show business for a steady job in business. Nevertheless, Lamb is remembered alongside Scott Joplin and James Scott as one of the three great ragtime proponents.
James Scott, 1885-1938
Biography. Biography. Born in Neosho, Missouri, in February 1885, James Scott was the son of former slaves. After taking music lessons as a boy, he was given his first piano at the age of 16. Scott spent the next several years playing in bands and saloons and working as a song-plugger for the Dumars Music Company in Carthage, Missouri. This relationship led to Dumars'...
May Aufderheide, 1888-1972
Biography. Biography. The participation of women in the world of ragtime should not come as a great surprise. May Aufderheide was perhaps the most famous woman to pen rags. A finishing school graduate, she was born in Indianapolis in May 1890. She learned to play the classics on the piano from her aunt May Kolmer, a noted musician, and was treated to the best...
Will Accooe (d. 1904)
Biography. Biography. Will Accooe (18??-1904) was an important songwriter during the birth of the black musical. By 1896, Accooe was working as musical director for John Isham's Octoroons, a successful and popular quasi-minstrel troupe. At the Nashville Exposition of 1897 his "Tennessee Centennial March" was one of the biggest hits of the approximately 450 compositions by black composers played by E. C. Brown in...
Alton A. Adams
Biography. Biography. Alton Augustus Adams, born in the Virgin Islands in 1889, remains an iconic figure there. When the United States took over the islands in 1917, the new governor appointed Adams chief musician. The band that Adams assembled entered the U.S. Navy as a unit, making Adams the first black bandmaster to serve in the U.S. Navy. He composed a great deal of...
Maurice Arnold, 1865-1937
Biography. Biography. Maurice Arnold was one of many African-American students of Antonin Dvorak during Dvorak's 1894 stay in the United States. Arnold participated in Dvorak's famous January 23, 1894, concert at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Arnold's four "American Plantation Dances" were performed at the conservatory and garnered him a small measure of fame. He was also the author of...
Eubie Blake, 1883-1983
Biography. Biography. Eubie Blake was one of the most important figures in early-20th-century African-American music, and one whose longevity made him a storehouse of the history of ragtime and early jazz music and culture. Born in Baltimore in 1883, Blake began playing piano professionally when he was 16; he wrote his first composition, "Sounds of Africa," (later retitled "Charleston Rag") around the same time....
J. Tim Brymn, 1881-1946
Biography. Biography. James Tim Brymn (1881-1946) was another talented musician and songwriter who took advantage of the rise of the black musical to expand the range of black music. Born in Kingston, North Carolina, Brymn was educated at Shaw University and the National Conservatory of Music in New York
Bob Cole, 1868-1911
Biography. Biography. Robert Allen Cole was born on July 1, 1868, in Athens, Georgia, the son of former slaves. Like Will Marion Cook and James Reese Europe, he became one of the most important composers of his generation, creating a model for other African-American musicians and composers. By 1891 Cole was a member of Jack's Creoles, a black minstrel company based in Chicago. Within...
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, 1875-1912
Biography. Biography. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in Croydon, England, on August 15, 1875. His father, a doctor from Sierra Leone, was forced to return to his home country around the time of Samuel's birth because he was not permitted to practice medicine in England. Samuel remained in England with his mother.
Will Marion Cook (1869-1944)
Biography. Biography. Biography. One of the most important figures in pre-jazz African-American music, Will Marion Cook is also one of its better known personalities. As a composer, conductor, performer, teacher, and producer, he had his hand in nearly every aspect of the black music of his time and worked with nearly every other important musician in his fields. Uncompromising and difficult to work with,...
R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943)
Biography. Robert Nathaniel Dett was born in Drummondsville, Ontario, Canada, on October 11, 1882. His ancestors were among the slaves who escaped to the North and settled in that slave-founded town. In 1901, Dett began studying piano with Oliver Willis Halstead in nearby Lockport. Three years later he was admitted to the Oberlin Conservatory, where he majored in piano and composition. In 1908, Dett...
Shepard N. Edmonds, 1876-1957
Biography. Biography. Little is known of Shepard N. Edmonds, except that he published some music. He was part of a vaudeville team with J. Leubrie Hill which performed on the East Coast around 1898.
James Reese Europe, 1881-1919
Biography. Biography. Eubie Blake said of James Reese Europe, "He was our benefactor and inspiration. Even more, he was the Martin Luther King of music." Europe earned this praise by being an unflagging innovator not only in his compositions and orchestrations, but in his organizational ability and leadership. One of America's greatest musicians, he progressed from strength to strength but was pointlessly cut down...
J. Leubrie Hill (John Leubrie), d. 1916
Biography. Biography. John Leubrie Hill was born about 1869. Little is known of his early life, but by 1896, he was writing songs with Alex Rogers. He also acted and wrote songs for the Williams and Walker musicals in the first decade of the 20th century.
Billy Johnson, 1858-1916
Biography. Biography. Billy Johnson was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in1858 and was educated in Augusta, Georgia. By 1881 he was performing in minstrel shows. In 1886 he joined Lew Johnson's minstrels and the following year moved to Hicks and Sawyer's minstrels, where he stayed for six seasons. During stints with several other minstrel troops, he began writing songs and eventually landed a job...
J. Rosamond Johnson (John Rosamond), 1873-1954
Biography. Biography. John Rosamund Johnson was one of the more important figures in black music in the first part of the 20th century, usually in partnership with Bob Cole or with his brother James Weldon Johnson. While he is chiefly remembered today as the composer of the Black National Anthem, "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," he had a varied career as a pianist, songwriter,...