Ragtime music developed in the boom towns along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in the mid-1800’s. Itinerant piano-players, mostly young black men, travelled from one town to another competing for jobs in the red-light districts. These pianists combined elements of many musical traditions as they strove to develop a playing style that would set them apart from the rest of the players.
Over time, these experiments produced a particular blend of European dance, African rhythms and Brass Band marches that was unlike anything that had been heard before. The effect on listeners was immediate and intoxicating. Eventually, the word “Ragtime” came to be applied to this music.
The essence of this new music was the use of a highly syncopated melody played against a very straight, march-like accompaniment. Although it was and remains primarily played by pianists, there are many ragtime songs and people play rags on everything from ukuleles to accordions.
Ragtime rapidly spread out from its mid-Western roots and became a nation-wide craze by the 1890’s. From there it spread to Europe and South America; profoundly affecting people’s ideas of popular music, and laying the foundation for later developments such as blues, jazz, and rock and roll.
By the 1920’s, the Ragtime craze was coming to an end, but the music never really died out. As the original generation of ragtimers started to pass away, new fans discovered the beauties of this kind of music. Over the years, people continued to perform and compose rags and there were significant revivals in the 1950’s and 1970’s.
Today, Ragtime Festivals are held all over the world and there are hundreds of ragtime performers and composers actively preserving and developing this uniquely American style of music. We are fortunate to have some of the best come and play for us every year in our own Wine Country Ragtime Festival.