1918. Ragtime was the first truly American musical genre that predated
jazz. Although often debated if it really was jazz, it flourished as
dancehall and parlor music in the red-light districts of American cities
between St. Louis and New Orleans years before being published as
popular sheet music for piano. Ragtime was a modification from the
early Irish jigs and the march music made popular by John Philip
Sousa, with additional polyrhythms coming from mostly the black
African American musicians. This description is an over
simplification. Some early piano rags were entitled "marches," and
"jigs," and "rags" were used interchangeably in the mid-1890s.
Ragtime was preceded by its close relative, "cakewalk," an African
American form of music and dance which originated among black
slaves in the Southern United States previous to Emancipation. Song
and dance competitions were common on the plantations often
resulting in prizes and rewards (many times cake) for the winners, and
cake became part of the celebration surrounding these competitions.
Ragtime was barely one step away from the songs written by Stephen
Collins Foster (1826-1864), known as the "father of American music,"
and the pre-eminent 19th century songwriter in the United States. His
songs, such as "Oh! Susanna", "Camptown Races" (1850), "Jeannie
With the Light Brown Hair" (1854), "Suwannee River" (1851), and
"Beautiful Dreamer" still remain popular over 150 years after their
composition. Ragtime set into motion the founding of Tin Pan Alley,
the name given to the group of Manhattan-centered music publishers
and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United
States from about 1885 until approximately 1930. Along with sheet
music, music stores began selling pianos and the new player pianos, an
industry that was quickly capitalized on by American manufacturers.
The popularity of the piano predated the phonograph, radio, or
television. The ragtime composer Scott Joplin became famous through
the 1899 publication in sheet music of his "Maple Leaf Rag" followed
by a string of ragtime hits. The most popular ragtime instrument was
the piano, usually played with upbeat tempos with or without lyrics,
with or without a rhythm section.