Due to its oral tradition origin and due to 19th c. White Americans defiance of
Black cultural expressions, very few documents are available for consultation and study nowadays which would
permit us to write a definite nor precise Ragtime History. However, here is a plausible hypothesis.
Ragtime is a musical style, essentially pianistic, originated in the American South and Midwest states area towards the end of the 19th century. Known as "classical ragtime" and "ragtime song" forms, it widely dominated American popular music from the 1890's to the 1910’s. Theoretically, Ragtime is considered to be a written and published music, but in fact it includes improvised parts which give Ragtime piano players the possibility to show off their artistry and personality. Often played in moderato tempo ("It's never right to play ragtime fast", said Scott JOPLIN), Ragtime is a happy and a lively music; and basically consists of four 16-measures Strains with repeats in 2/4 time signature, (AABBACCDD form) with modulations and sometimes an interlude of 2 or 4 measures between Strain 2 and Strain 3.
Ragtime is a mixing of both White and Black musical influences of that time. The european musicologist Reimer Von ESSEN wrote in his book "Une Histoire du jazz": it is certainly about "the most european form of the afro-american [...] from Black musical techniques to popularized form of European Salon music of that era, marchs, polonaises, polkas, quadrilles". [In reality, Ragtime music was banished from these salons because it came from "houses of ill-repute"]. The influence coming from the Black culture side appears in syncopated rythms used which creates a dancing swing; White influence is marked by composed point of view of Ragtime music, which has several linked parties and melodies, and a March Style Left Hand accompaniment (from Fanfare music).
Rythmically speaking, Ragtime is derivated from plantation dances and musics caricatured and popularized in the Minstrel Shows, like the Cake-walk [MP3]. On a ¾ marked rythm pattern, the Right hand plays a syncopated melody based on a 8 sixteenth notes theoretical succession, accentuated in a ternary time pattern. This time dividing has, according to Mr. Borneman, "an undeniably African origin and approach".
Fixed Style at the origin, Ragtime music will quickly evolve, integrating blues notes and improvisation with Ragtime players such as Jelly Roll MORTON [MP3]. In the 20's, Ragtime splited up into 2 groups. On one hand, the White extension, called Novelty [MP3], on the other hand the Black extension, called Stride [MP3] or Shout Piano which is the father of modern Jazz piano Music.
Forgotten for nearly 30 years, Ragtime started its revival in the 1940's, and Scott JOPLIN's music is now considered to be a true American History figure.