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Classical Academy | Jazz & Blues | 20th century period


Ragtime is basically an Afro-American version of the polka - or so said music critic at the time Gilbert Thomas. It began life as dance music in the red-light districts of American cities like St Louis and New Orleans before Scott Joplin elevated the style to something worthy of publication in sheet music form. His Maple Leaf Rag of 1899 influenced a generation of ragtime composers and is still thought of as the quintessential ragtime hit. 

Although ragtime fell by the wayside as jazz came to make its mark on American musical history, a number of keen revivals have taken place through the course of the 20th century. In the early 1940s, jazz musicians incorporated ragtime into their repertoire, and in the 50s many rag hits were recorded, published and even new ones composed. Most importantly, Joshua Rifkin brought out a Joplin compilation and a film The Sting made The Entertainer a top 5 hit in 1974.

Ragtime, and for the most part Joplin, is seen as America's equivalent of minuets by Mozart, mazurkas by Chopin, or waltzes by Brahms. It even influence contemporary classical composers from Erik Satie to Igor Stravinsky.

Enjoy our special playlist of ragtime hits and get in the rhythm of the ragtime beats. Alternatively, you can read more about Scott Joplin with our feature article on the King of Ragtime.