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Ragtime – also spelled rag-time or rag time – is a musical style that enjoyed its peak popularity between 1895 and 1919. Its cardinal trait is its syncopated or "ragged" rhythm. The style has its origins in African-American communities in cities such as St. Louis. Ben Harney, a Kentucky native, wrote "You've Been a Good Old Wagon But You Done Broke Down" and helped popularize the style. The composition was published in 1896, a few months after Ernest Hogan's "La Pas Ma La".

Ragtime was also a modification of the march style popularized by John Philip Sousa, with additional polyrhythms coming from African music. Ragtime composer Scott Joplin (ca. 1868–1917) became famous through the publication of the "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899) and a string of ragtime hits such as "The Entertainer" (1902), although he was later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados until the major ragtime revival in the early 1970s. For at least 12 years after its publication, "Maple Leaf Rag" heavily influenced subsequent ragtime composers with its melody lines, chord progressions or metric patterns.

In a 1913 interview published in the black newspaper New York Age, Scott Joplin asserted that there had been "ragtime music in America ever since the Negro race has been here, but the white people took no notice of it until about twenty years ago [in the 1890s]

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