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Maple Leaf Rag Day 2021

April 1, 2021

It’s time to jam the Maple Leaf Rag in tribute to Scott Joplin’s unhonored request to have it played at his funeral on 1 April 1917. Maple Leaf Rag day celebrates the wild success of ragtime that Scott Joplin helped cultivate back at the turn of the 20th century (early 1900’s). It was arguably America’s first popular music genre with nationwide appeal, thanks to the proliferation of affordable printed music, as well as the genius of Scott Joplin who aspired to elevate ragtime as a respected musical style, despite attempts to label it as trashy, unwholesome, and even dangerous.

But exactly what is ragtime, musically speaking? Here is a short musical explanation by Davide Di Bello showing how syncopation works to create that characteristic ragtime sound, accentuating the beat, and “inducing the listener to move to the music.”

Ragtime lead to jazz as musicians embellished and improvised on it, such as Jelly Roll Morton in his swinging transformation of the Maple Leaf Rag:

And you don’t need a piano to play ragtime, as Bob Evans illustrates with a fine guitar rendition of the Maple Leaf Rag:

Whether you can perform it yourself on your instrument of choice, or listen to others play it, be sure to crank up the Maple Leaf Rag today, April 1st — or any other day you want! — to acknowledge the historical significance of the piece, and the energy & talent of its great African American composer, Scott Joplin.

To show the spirit of Scott Joplin that ragtime is alive and well in the 21st century, here is a highly-viewed Maple Leaf Rag light show by Toms Mucenieks:

Image Credit: The “Scott Joplin 1911, The King of Ragtime Composers” portrait featured in this post came from NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, via the following Black History Month post: Slices of the Tenderloin #3: Scott Joplin.

However you enjoy it, whether by playing it yourself on your instrument of choice or listening to others perform it, be sure to crank up the Maple Leaf Rag today (April 1st) and anytime you want — appreciating its historic significance and the energy & talent of its African American composer, Scott Joplin.d

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