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Imagine St. Louis in the 1900s and you Can Hear Ragtime

As the Ragtime Rendezvous is scheduled for 2-5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7, at the Rosebud Cafe next to the Scott Joplin House, 2658 Delmar, it’s interesting to take a look back at this style of music that is uniquely St. Louis.

 

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By AMBER GIELOW

former MBU student

Walking the St. Louis red-light district in the early 1900s would have been a fascinating experience, filled with flickering lights, people floating in and out of nearby bars, and music drifting from each establishment.

Venturing onto Market Street, one would be greeted by Tom Turpin’s entertainment complex, the Rosebud Bar, which became home to the founders of the emerging musical genre, ragtime.

The Rosebud Bar, built in 1900 and lasting only six years, which eventually turned into a sports club with a pool room and wine room, became the sprawling hot spot for African-Americans and made St. Louis the national center for ragtime performance.

Ragtime music, which is highlighted by its off-set rhythms and dance qualities, is unlike any other musical genre and is purely American, developed from the dances of the African-Americans in St. Louis and New Orleans.

Each piece claims a particular type of dance style. Some, such as the two-step, are “smooth dances, reminiscent of the waltz,” said Richard Egan, one of America’s foremost ragtime pianists and lifetime St. Louis resident.

Others are light-hearted and quick and would eventually give way to the jive and boogie dances of the mid-20th century, though all share similar qualities.

According to Boyd Pickup, a producer of “I Love Jazz” for PBS and ragtime aficionado, almost every ragtime piece can be ended the same way because they all have the same base qualities.

“If you ever get lost in a ragtime piece, just end on a ‘C.’ Chances are, you’ll have ended it the right way,” said Pickup.

Of all musical genres, only ragtime was crafted solely in America, yet, despite its contributions to popular American music, its importance is often overlooked, even in its hometown.

Where the Rosebud Bar once stood is the St. Louis FBI building, hardly a fitting tribute to what was once a lively and historic center of Missouri culture.

However, though the Rosebud Bar will never be recaptured, near the former red-light district stands the home of one of America’s most famous ragtime composers.

Scott Joplin, arguably the most influential ragtime composer of all time, made his home in a small flat in downtown St. Louis until 1903, often performing with other ragtime masters at the Rosebud Bar.

Composer of “The Entertainer” and “The Maple Leaf Rag,” Joplin achieved great fame while living in St. Louis, even composing and performing a piece at the 1904 World’s Fair.

In 1976, Joplin’s residence was declared a National Historic Landmark and has since been donated to the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of State Parks.

Since it was donated in 1984, the house, located at 2658A Delmar Blvd., has been restored and turned into a museum focusing on both ragtime music and the history of the district, with the second floor having been furnished as Joplin and his wife would have had it during their residence.

Attached to the house is the Rosebud Café, which was built to honor the Rosebud Bar that gave life to the ragtime legacy in St. Louis.

It “is a replica of the real Rosebud Bar and Café that was on Market Street,” said a worker at the Joplin House.

The café houses a turn-of-the-century bar and player piano, with some piano rolls that were made by Joplin himself.

Though the houses around Joplin’s are now largely uninhabited and abandoned, this one piece of St. Louis and music history, one of the few of its kind, will remain preserved.

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