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

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 5 16:03:27 EST 2018

I haven't seen any early examples of "ragtime" or "rag time" - although I've seen quite a few from later in 1896.

I have looked at "rag music", "rag dance" and other music-related "rags."  "Rag dance" and music may be derived from an English translation of a Southern/French-influenced New Years Eve tradition of a masquerade that featured a French-language song about rag dancing, described from as early as the early-1870s.  A specific style of music associated with rag dances appears to have emerged by the early-1890s.

"Rag music" from as early as 1895.

The Courier (Lincoln, Nebraska), April 20, 1895, page 8.

"If Mr. Herbert, who gave us so much clap trap music Monday night, could have heard the Thomas orchestra concert at the Funke Thursday night, he might have learned, and possibly to his surprise, that a Lincoln audience is capable, on rare occasions, of manifesting a cordial and intelligent appreciation of such pure music as Dvorak’s symphony, “From the New World.”  The enthusiasm over the rendition of this wonderful symphony, and other selections on the Thomas program, was quite as intense as that which followed the performance of the “rag” music Monday night."

"Rag dance" from as early as 1876.

The Daily Intelligencer (Seattle, Washington), September 26, 1876, page 3.

"A Rag Dance will be given at Yesler’s Hall on Tuesday evening the 26th inst.  All parties wishing to participate in the dance must come before 12 o’clock attired in rags, otherwise they cannot dance till after that time.  The most ragged looking individual in the room will be rewarded with a prize."

"Rag dance" may be derived from an old French, New Year's Eve tradition in St. Louis called La Guignolee, a masquerade at which they sang "La Guignolee", which included the lyric, "dansons le Guenille"

The dance was described as early as 1873.  The writer translated the lyric "dansons le Guenille" as "dance the rag".

The Fair Play (Ste. Genevieve, MIssouri), Janury 30, 1873, page 1.

“On New Year’s eve, soon after nightfall, the young men of Saint Louis would assemble together, at some appointed place, dressed out in the most fantastic masquerade costumes . . . . [T]hey sang “La Guignolee,” this they called "courier la guignolee," running the guignolee.”

The Southern/French-influenced origin appears supported by a later references to a  "Mobile rag dance" given in Rock Island, Illinois in 1891. Rock Island Daily Argus, February 21, 1891, page 3.

In 1896, some "Cake Walks" included a separate "rag dance" contest for a ham.

One writer described that in some places "rag dances" were eclipsing "cake walks" as the dance for which the cake was awarded - it sounds a lot like a free-form square dance.

The Yakima Herald, September 10, 1896, page 2.

"Everybody ‘Rag.’  A New Southern Amusement that Has Succeeded the Famous Cake Walk.  The old southern “cake walk” is becoming a thing of the past in some parts of the south.  In its stead there is now a dance, which is known as the “rag.”
The dancers form a square in the center of the dance hall, each standing separately, a man and a woman alternately.
Then there is a caller who stands in the middle of the floor.
“Join hands!” he yells.  There is a shuffle of the feet and the gentlemen “sasha,” or dance, across the room and join hands with the ladies.  Both shuffle their feet, when presently the caller yells at the top of his voice: “Everybody ‘rag!’”
Dancing continues for some time, and when all is over the best “ragging” couple are awarded the cake.
The “rag” is a dance very similar to the “old Virginia reel,” but there is more shuffling of the feet and it is of longer duration."

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
Sent: Monday, November 5, 2018 8:02 AM
Subject: Antedating of the Term "Ragtime"

---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
Subject:      Antedating of the Term "Ragtime"

I believe that the earliest use of the term "ragtime" that has been discove=
red by musicologists is Ben Harney's composition "You've Been a Good Old Wa=
gon 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 H=
arney, Original Introducer to the Stage of the Now Popular 'Rag Time' in Et=
hiopian Song."

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

1896 _San Francisco Examiner_ 5 Jan. 8/6 (Newspapers.com)  Did you ever hea=
r of a German being able to write a coon song?  Why Hirschbach tried to orc=
hestrate 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 melod=
y, 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 clea=
rly antedates that.

Fred Shapiro


Yale Book of Quotations (Yale University Press)

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

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

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