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Ragtime

Take a piano.  Add a piano player whose left hand plays a steady one-two rhythm and right hand syncopated notes off the beat.  The result is ragtime (from 'ragged time') music. 

Fifty classic piano rags
with an introduction by Rudi Blesh.
Mineola, NY : Dover Publications c2010.
This collectionnbsp;of the best piano rags by a noted music historian recaptures the lively mood of the ragtime era. All the greats are here, including Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Francis Lamb, as are such popular pieces as "Maple Leaf Rag," "The Entertainer," "Elite Syncopations," and "American Beauty Rag."
     
Scott Joplin and the age of ragtime
Ray Argyle.
Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c2009.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Scott Joplin struggled on the margins of society to play a pivotal role in the creation of ragtime music. His brief life and tragic death encompassed a tumultuous time of changes in modern music, culture, and technology. This biography follows Joplin's life from the brothels and bars of St. Louis to the music mills of Tin Pan Alley as he introduced a syncopated, lively style to classical piano.
     
The king of ragtime
Larry Karp.
Scottsdale, AZ : Poisoned Pen Press, 2008.
Includes bibliographical references (p. [293]-296).
     
Ragtime : an encyclopedia, discography, and sheetography
David A. Jasen.
New York : Routledge, c2007.
Ragtime: An Encyclopedia, Discography, and Sheetography is the definitive reference work for this important popular form of music that flourished from the 1890s through the 1920s, and was one of the key predecessors of jazz. It collects for the first time entries on all the important composers and performers, and descriptions of their works; a complete listing of all known published ragtime compositions, even those self-published and known only in single copies; and a complete discography from the cylinder era to today. It also represents the culmination of a lifetimes research for its author, considered to be the foremost scholar of ragtime and early 20th century popular music. Rare photographs accompany most entries, taken from the original sheets, newspapers, and other archival sources. Ragtime: An Encyclopedia, Discography, and Sheetography will be a standard reference for anyone interested in the history of jazz.
     
Stagolee shot Billy
Cecil Brown.
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2003.
This Story was Never Meant to be sandwiched between the covers of a book, as neat lines of prose. In 1895 a man called "Stag" Lee Shelton shot a man called Billy Lyons in a St. Louis bar. A black-on-black crime that scarcely made headlines. But this story, turned into a song, is one that black Americans have never tired of repeating and reliving. This tale of dignity and death, violence and sex, has been given countless forms by artists ranging from Ma Rainey to the Clash. Billy died because he touched another man's five-dollar Stetson. Or was it because he cheated at a card game? Or was it because the antagonists straddled the great American fault line of race at the time the earth was shifting -- at the time a strange, almost conspiratorial political war was raging in St. Louis between traditional black Republicans and a renegade faction aligned with the traditionally racist Democratic party? A small portion of this story has been told again and again, generation after generation, but few, till now, have known what the whole story was. Novelist and scholar Cecil Brown explores this legend from what was in those days the second city of America, gateway between East and West and North and South: St. Louis. Though bits of actual history have been associated with the song, the true story -- told in its entirety for the first time in this book -- is more complex, more deeply rooted, than anything anyone would ever dare to invent. It tells of the first generation of free black men, crushed by a Genteel America that was both black and white. It tells of the wild place this country was in the nineteenth century -- so wild that the inhabitants of the twentieth century could take it only in small doses and needed to forget. Now it can be told in full. Book jacket.
     

Rags, as these music pieces are called, became popular in the U.S. at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Over 6000 rags were written between 1899-1917.

Scott Joplin and the age of ragtime
Ray Argyle.
Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c2009.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Scott Joplin struggled on the margins of society to play a pivotal role in the creation of ragtime music. His brief life and tragic death encompassed a tumultuous time of changes in modern music, culture, and technology. This biography follows Joplin's life from the brothels and bars of St. Louis to the music mills of Tin Pan Alley as he introduced a syncopated, lively style to classical piano.
     
The king of ragtime
Larry Karp.
Scottsdale, AZ : Poisoned Pen Press, 2008.
Includes bibliographical references (p. [293]-296).
     

Most rags are played as a piano solo and with the qualities of a march.  Variations include rags written for small bands and ragtime waltzes.

Many of ragtime's greatest composers and publishers were born or spent time in St. Louis or other parts of Missouri. 

The 'King of Ragtime' Scott Joplin moved to St. Louis in 1900. Before the move, Scott Joplin, worked with publisher John Stark in Sedelia, Missouri to publish what some call the most perfect rag, 'Maple Leaf Rag.'  (see sidebar)

Joplin & his Maple Leaf Rag

One summer day in 1899 Joplin with his rag, Maple Leaf Rag, in one hand and a young boy's hand in the other visited Stark & Son publishing company in Sedelia, MO.
 
The Starks' (father & son) agreed to publish the work after the boy danced to the rag while Joplin played.  Initially 400 copies are printed. The careers of the publisher and composer began to soar (no further word on the boy).

Like Joplin, Stark moved to St. Louis in 1900.  Stark would publish Joplin's rags, 'The Entertainer' (that became a part of the 1970 movie 'the Sting'), 'The Cascades' (for the 1904 World's Fair), and 'The Gladiolus Rag'. 

Joplin would mentor other ragtime greats including Joseph F. Lamb and James Scott.

Another St. Louisan, Tom Turpin wrote 'Harlem Rag' in 1897, one of the first published rags.  His Rosebud Bar on Market Street provided a nightly venue  for new and well-known ragtime pianists.

Ragtime's national image grew with Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Eubie Blake composing their own rags.

By the 1920s ragtime's popularity faded.  But in the 1940s there was a revival.   In the 1960s television realized the popularity of ragtime when ragtime pianist Big Tiny Little appeared on the Lawrence Welk show and Bill Baird's ragtime puppet Slugger Ryan visited Jack Parr. 

Today new audiences and musicians enjoy ragtime's syncopated beat.  Ragtime festivals are held around the country, including the  John William 'Blind" Boone Ragtime Festival in Columbia Missouri and the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedelia Missouri.

Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff