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Scott Joplin

Armond J Piron

Scott Joplin









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Ragtime has been called the first American music and was its start associated with the piano. It was distinguished from other music of the time mainly by the treble syncopations over the regularly accented bass. Elements of the music, apart from the African rhythmic features, can be traced to Euro-American dances, post Civil War marches and New Orleans-born Louis M. Gottschalk’s brand of European classicism.


The origins of ragtime are just as difficult to determine as the origins of blues. Both ere created by African Americans on a folk level, and thus went undocumented in their early stages. An early form of ragtime is believed to have flourished in barrooms, dance halls, and at various gatherings of black people two decades or more before the first rag was published.

Originally, the rags were the exclusive property of African Americans but the first published rag (“Mississippi Rag,” 1897) was by a white Chicago band leader, William Krell. Later in the year 1897 the first rag by a black Composer, Tom Turpin’s “Harlem Rag,” was published in St. Louis.



The Missouri towns of Sedalia and St. Louis became centers of the new music. Sedalia’s Maple Leaf Club and the sporting houses and beer gardens along St. Louis’ Chestnut and market Street employed many of the early ragtime pianists. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904), better known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, helped popularize ragtime.

The rag moved from the parlor in the red light districts to the parlor in the average man’s home. Another factor in the spread of the new musical craze was the piano roll. At one time rolls were being reproduced at six time the rate of human beings in the United States. This might have been termed the “piano roll explosion.”

Scott Joplin (1868-1917), whose “Original Rags” and “Maple Leaf Rag” were published in 1899, soon became recognized as the “King of Ragtime.” His publisher, john Stark of St. Louis, produced a long series of hits which have remained the classics of ragtime to this day.

Not only was ragtime the most popular piano music of the first two decades of this century but all dance and theatre orchestras as well as brass bands added the latest rags to their repertoire.

By the end of World War I, with the growing popularity of jazz, ragtime was on the wane. As John Stark wrote in 1919, “the spirit of high class rags by the masters of all time, the marvel of musicians in all civilized countries, was diluted, polluted and filtered through thousands of cheap songs and vain imitations which have done much harm to the reputation of real classics ragtime.”

When the twenties came there were still a few rags being written but the demand for ragtime had almost vanished. However, the influence of ragtime on America’s music since that time has been very notable especially in the realm of folk music, such as blues and white country music.



The New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra was formed in 1967 with the encouragement of Pearl Records to perform, as written, rediscovered orchestrations of classic ragtime. Interest resulting from the recording led to engagements at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and Heritage fairs of 1970 and 1971. The orchestra also participated in the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival and were filmed as part of “A New Orleans Tribute to Louis Armstrong,” a movie commemorating Louis Armstrong’s 7th birthday appearance at Newport.

The press responded enthusiastically: “The New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra is a seven-piece group organized by Lars Edegran, a young Swedish pianist who gained access to the arrangements played by a band popular in the early years of the century, led by John Robichaux.. dance music that might have been played at those gala balls of the 90s.. captured the grace, stateliness and delightful rhythmic flow of an all but-forgotten music… (New York Times)

The repertoire of the orchestra includes not only “classic rag” numbers published in the “Red back book” but also marches, cakewalks, waltzes, blues and other New Orleans jazz numbers_ all having elements of ragtime. With few exceptions this repertoire was acquired from the John Robichaux Collection of orchestrations at Tulane University’s Archive of new Orleans Jazz. Violinist Robichaux (1866-1939) was leader of he New Orleans’ best known society orchestra and his library of over 7,000 pieces consisted of all types of popular music from that period.

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