Ragtime Influence On African American Culture

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After the first form of ‘American’ entertainment rose to popularity in the 1840’s known as the Minstrel Show, the African American race faced new forms of bigotry not alike from the injustice they had experienced for the past two centuries as a part of the transatlantic slave trade. Originally being encouraged by their slave traders, the roots of African music trace back to the 1600’s where slaves began singing and dancing to help maintain their physical condition and keep them from despair and suicide (Collier: The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz). These experiences would come to shape customs of resilience, with the African American musical culture affirming this. Beginning with the development of Blues and Ragtime, this paper will discuss the …show more content…
With its shifting of melodic accents onto off beats thus creating intensification and rhythmic momentum of the music (Starr & Waterman: 2003, pg.37), Ragtime is said to attribute its feature of syncopation from the banjo, an instrument created by African American slave musicians in the early 1600’s. The first popular Ragtime piece ‘All Coons Look Alike to Me’ was released in 1896 by Ernest Hogan, and as can be identified in the title, was another form of bigotry against the African American society. This title was followed by the success of other Ragtime composers such as Stephen Foster and Sadie Koninsky who knew their musical success was guaranteed due to the growing market for Ragtime music and the white fascination with African American music that was first evident in minstrelsy (Starr & Waterman: 2003, pg.39). On the contrary, African American’s themselves were composing their own ‘Rags’ of which they believed required prestigious piano playing skills that would also be required in the classical repertoire (Burton: 2010, pg. 62). These young black piano players were bringing new energy and complexity to their work which gained the art form its popularity in both white and black circles. Whilst Ragtime was influencing writers in urban areas, in particular the money-driven machines of what was to …show more content…
It was the perfect solution to provide for the expanding urban mass market of music. First opening in 1903, Tin Pan Alley, located on 28th Street, New York City, was a densely populated music publishing house where composers and ‘song pluggers’ would produce and promote their popular songs (Starr & Waterman: 2003, pg.32). Until 1930, Tin Pan Alley remained the forefront of musical innovation, hosting the greats of Broadway such as Irving Berlin and one of the kings of Jazz piano, James P. Johnson. By 1923, Johnson’s contributions to Tin Pan Alley had been recognised particularly through his work on the well known song the ‘Charleston’. The ‘Charleston’ was first written for the black American musical ‘Runnin’ Wild’ and after premiering on Broadway on the 29th October, 1923, the song and its matching Charleston dance had become a nationwide craze. This success was a classic example of the design of Tin Pan Alley and its connections to Broadway, this exchange had come the most important medium where Tin Pan Alley could popularize its songs (Starr & Waterman: 2003, pg.33). Inspired in particular by Ragtime music, Johnson understood the advantages of composing music that would inhabit a social context, this was certainly the case with the ‘Charleston’. Throughout the rest of his career writing songs through ‘Tin Pan Alley’, none of

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