Sitting astride the 19th and 20th centuries, classic piano ragtime was the popular music of an exciting new era in America. It was a bold expression of the cultural diversity spreading throughout the land, and this captivating, syncopated music style contained European, African, South American and Caribbean influences. Not without controversy because of its multiracial and ethnic origins, ragtime was both disdained and embraced in all ranks of the social order. From the seedy dives and “houses of negotiable affection” in the sporting districts to the finest ballrooms and salons of genteel society, Americans were charmed by this fascinating new music. Ragtime is the root of American jazz and its elements are evident in all forms of American popular music that have since evolved.
The rags in this collection are favorites of mine from the ragtime era. I chose many of them because they reflect the hilarity, frivolity and lighthearted feeling that ragtime so generously imparts. Others reflect the dreaminess, gentleness and poignant sentiment — even sadness — frequently expressed by this rich and varied musical genre. Included are pieces by the three major composers of ragtime, Scott Joplin (1868-1917), James Scott (1886-1938), and Joseph Lamb (1887-1960).
My own composition, “Ragtime Mary Greene, A Ghostly Two-Step” received its premiere public performance aboard the Delta Queen, the steamboat where I have performed for many years, on May 16, 2005 at mile number 304.1 on the Tennessee River. Captain Mary Greene, who with her husband Captain Gordon Greene, owned and operated the Delta Queen for many years, died on board the vessel in 1949 and today is affectionately known as the Ghost of the Delta Queen. Some claim to have seen her. Many more, including myself, certainly feel her spirit alive on this grand old riverboat. For the first performance of this rag named in her honor, I offered Captain Mary a chair center stage. Though I didn’t actually see her, I’m positive she was sitting there.