Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Shake Raggers and Buzzard Roosters – Origins of Ragtime Music

Happy Hooligan Dance and Two Step.
Ragtime music lasted from approximately 1896 to 1920. Its origins are far from certain, and the subject was the matter of much discussion in newspaper and entertainment journals from about 1911 on. Most were in agreement that ragtime was a Negro music which had its beginnings in St. Louis, Missouri or Chicago, Illinois. There is some evidence that ragtime began as banjo accompanied music and was then adapted for piano.

The first songs published featured lyrics and were actually coon songs. Ernest Hogan’s ‘All Coons Look Alike to Me’ was published August 3, 1896, and Ben Harney’s ‘You’ve been a Good Old Wagon but you’ve Done Broke Down’ (HERE), recorded by Bessie Smith in the twenties, on August 5th. Hogan claimed that he wrote the first syncopated ‘coon’ song ever written.” A song which was called ‘Pas Ma La,’ published before ‘All Coons Look Alike to Me.’ For years Harney boasted that he was the originator of ragtime but later changed his billing to “originator of the ragtime piano,” claiming to have adapted the style from some Negro banjoists he met at a party.

Below are two clippings that locate Ragtime origins much farther back than the 1890’s. The first is from the annual The Negro Year Book (1878-1918). The second, an intriguing story of a war between the Shake Raggers and Buzzard Roosters, supports the St. Louis origin theory in a novel way.

New York Sunday Telegraph, September 29, 1901.
12th Street Rag.
Pickled Beets Rag.
Images from the Kansas City Sheet Music Collection which can be browsed HERE.

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