Cakewalks and Rags


The cakewalk is a syncopated march-like piece that originated in the 19th century as a dance performed by black American slaves to parody the behavior of their white owners. Ragtime, a similar musical form, juxtaposed a syncopated melodic line against a straight, march-like bass line. Cakewalks and rags became hugely popular in the 1890s and remained popular through World War I. Ragtime originated as an instrumental form, often played on banjo or piano. Rag songs, commonly performed by Edward Meeker, Billy Murray, and other popular vocalists, share some of the features of ragtime such as syncopation, but this playlist features the more characteristic instrumental rags and cakewalks.

Before the influence of African-American music became widespread, Anglo-American popular music was mostly not syncopated and was “square,” like a church hymn. Today, much of American popular music is syncopated, a feature that descends from these early rags and cakewalks. - David Seubert, UC Santa Barbara.