[Ads-l] Antedating of the Term "Ragtime"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Nov 5 11:02:02 EST 2018

I believe that the earliest use of the term "ragtime" that has been discovered by musicologists is Ben Harney's composition "You've Been a Good Old Wagon but You've Done Broke Down," described on the cover of its sheet music (copyrighted August 5, 1896) as "Written, Composed, and Introduced by Ben Harney, Original Introducer to the Stage of the Now Popular 'Rag Time' in Ethiopian Song."

I have found a slight but important antedating of "ragtime":

1896 _San Francisco Examiner_ 5 Jan. 8/6 (Newspapers.com)  Did you ever hear of a German being able to write a coon song?  Why Hirschbach tried to orchestrate it, but never got it right.  It is written in a peculiar measure, called "rag" time, and he not only couldn't write the music to such a melody, but never heard of the tempo before.

The Oxford English Dictionary's first use of "ragtime" is the "You've Been a Good Old Wagon" sheet music, but the San Francisco newspaper article clearly antedates that.

Fred Shapiro


Yale Book of Quotations (Yale University Press)

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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