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date: 27 January 2022

Jazz, Blues, and Ragtime in America, 1900–1945free

Jazz, Blues, and Ragtime in America, 1900–1945free

  • Court CarneyCourt CarneyDepartment of History, Stephen F. Austin State University


In January 1938, Benny Goodman took command of Carnegie Hall on a blustery New York City evening and for two hours his band tore through the history of jazz in a performance that came to define the entire Swing Era. Goodman played Carnegie Hall at the top of his jazz game leading his crack band—including Gene Krupa on drums and Harry James on trumpet—through new, original arrangements by Fletcher Henderson. Compounding the historic nature of the highly publicized jazz concert, Goodman welcomed onto the stage members of Duke Ellington’s band to join in on what would be the first major jazz performance by an integrated band. With its sprit of inclusion as well as its emphasis on the historical contours of the first decades of jazz, Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert represented the apex of jazz music’s acceptance as the most popular form of American musical expression. In addition, Goodman’s concert coincided with the resurgence of the record industry, hit hard by the Great Depression. By the late 1930s, millions of Americans purchased swing records and tuned into jazz radio programs, including Goodman’s own show, which averaged two million listeners during that period.

And yet, only forty years separated this major popular triumph and the very origins of jazz music. Between 1900 and 1945, American musical culture changed dramatically; new sounds via new technologies came to define the national experience. At the same time, there were massive demographic shifts as black southerners moved to the Midwest and North, and urban culture eclipsed rural life as the norm. America in 1900 was mainly a rural and disconnected nation, defined by regional identities where cultural forms were transmitted through live performances. By the end of World War II, however, a definable national musical culture had emerged, as radio came to link Americans across time and space. Regional cultures blurred as a national culture emerged via radio transmissions, motion picture releases, and phonograph records. The turbulent decade of the 1920s sat at the center of this musical and cultural transformation as American life underwent dramatic changes in the first decades of the 20th century.


  • 20th Century: Pre-1945
  • Cultural History
  • Urban History
  • African American History

In early 1938, the same year as Goodman’s Carnegie Hall success, Jelly Roll Morton, self-proclaimed “Originator of Jazz and Stomps,” wrote a letter to the jazz magazine, Down Beat, announcing that “New Orleans is the cradle of jazz, and I, myself, happened to be the creator [of jazz] in the year 1902.” Prematurely aged by bad health, Morton used the letter to center himself in the history of jazz music. By the Swing Era, countless articles had begun to sketch out the early years of jazz, and Morton was desperate to claim appropriate credit. “My contributions were many,” Morton wrote, “first clown director, with witty sayings and flashily dressed, now called master of ceremonies; first glee club in orchestra; the first washboard was recorded by me; bass fiddle, drums—which were supposed to be impossible to record.”1 This letter inspired Alan Lomax to seek out the piano player for a series of interviews, which would soon develop into an extended oral history of the first years of jazz music. New Orleans—and Morton—figured prominently in this narrative, and the piano player posited the city as the essential element in the jazz story. With African, Caribbean, French, and Spanish connectors, New Orleans also had a complex demographic structure, with a racialized society fractured along white, black, and Creole lines. “I thought,” Morton succinctly told Lomax, “New Orleans was the whole world.”2

The musical culture discussed by Morton had its roots in the late 19th century, and two entertainment forms in particular—ragtime and the blues—would have a major impact on the development of jazz. In addition, the vaudeville stage, with its connections to minstrelsy and instrumental proficiency, would help foster a diverse network of theaters and musicians located across the nation. The broader context of these musical developments was the shift to modernism, as more and more Americans began to seek out new ways of connecting with one another. This cultural shift signaled a revolution in terms of crafting an integrated nation as technological innovations and mass production helped create a more singular American culture. As modernism—with its roots in urbanism, secularism, and industrialism—began to creep into American culture, it formed the framework for new modes of expression. Ragtime and the blues, then, developed within this fertile period as technological innovation, business expansion, and growing urbanization radically redefined the cultural landscape of America.

Ragtime and the Blues

In the 1890s, a series of events would underscore the dramatic changes beginning to emerge in American society.3 The first was the largest economic catastrophe to that date as the stock market crash of 1893 called into question the economic stability of the nation. At the same time, the World’s Columbian Exposition commemorated the four centuries that had passed since Europeans began to establish a foothold in the western hemisphere. These two moments underscored the vast array of experiences that came to define America in the late 19th century: the volatility of a modern economy and the convergent sense of newness and oldness that shaped the discussion of Columbus. In addition, Chicago (site of the fair) also hosted that year’s annual meeting of the American Historical Association. There, historian Frederick Jackson Turner proposed the frontier as the fundamental element of the American character—the definitive aspect of American identity.4

Ragtime came of age within this context of upheaval and questioning, hopefulness and concern. This new music was a syncopated synthesis of a variety of earlier genres such as marches, popular dance songs, music from the black south, and music from the Caribbean. Despite this disparate collection of components, ragtime developed a coherent sound through the explicit use of a strongly syncopated beat. This pronounced, ragged beat gave ragtime its name as well as its attendant controversy. The rhythmic drive of the music—present in each of ragtime’s various forms—spurred a national conversation about the alleged immoral nature of the music. A number of commentators argued that the music eroded the Victorian values of the nation, while others attacked it for being too raw, too untamed, too black. African American musicians played such a large role in the creation and diffusion of ragtime, that many white critics faulted the music for not being “American” enough.5

Ragtime peaked in the two decades before America entered World War I, and much of its popularity was made possible through new business practices that allowed for the mass production of pianos and the mass distribution of sheet music. These innovations helped link the localized, if widespread, world of vaudeville theaters to a national, mass-produced and distributed, culture.6 Vaudeville theaters helped develop an audience for ragtime as well as provide for a repertoire. But vaudeville also brought with it certain elements from blackface minstrelsy.7 Ragtime emerged from this complicated context of blackface caricature, racist comedic tropes, and a burgeoning entertainment market. African Americans negotiated this challenging landscape through a combination of playing to and fighting against expectations from audiences as well as businessmen. Ultimately, ragtime was defined by the racially coded world built by Jim Crow, and the music’s reception (if not the music itself) would be shaped explicitly by issues of race and racism. Still, ragtime, at least for a few years, was wildly popular with white audiences, many of whom enjoyed a particular lyrically driven subset of the genre known colloquially as “ragtime song.” As ragtime became the popular music of the day, however, another musical form, rooted directly in the black experience, began to percolate out of the rural south.

Unlike ragtime, which had a fairly linear progression from a syncopated piano-based music to its popular lyrical incarnation, the story of the blues defies easy characterization. Ultimately, a raw form of what would come to be called the blues began to emerge in a variety of locations across the rural south. Connected to the work songs and spirituals of the slave community, the blues was a music intricately connected to the lives of black southerners. By the 20th century (as ragtime became popular), various forms of the blues helped define, musically, the experience of many black southerners. The blues was rooted rhythmically and lyrically to the work songs that served a multiplicity of roles within the enslaved plantation culture of the South.8 Beyond the musicological connections, the blues was linked directly to black America. The origin and definition of the blues, James Cone has noted, “cannot be understood independent of the suffering that black people endured in the context of white racism and hate.” “The blues,” therefore, “tells us about black people’s attempt to carve out a significant existence in a very trying situation. The purpose of the blues is to give structure to black existence in a context where color means rejection and humiliation.”9

Far removed from the origins of the music, the most important person in the popularizing of the blues was W. C. Handy. Handy, a trained cornet player who had played in various dance and marching bands, saw firsthand the power of the blues (and its possible commercial appeal) when he saw a black guitar player in Tutwiler, Mississippi. The guitarist was improvising lyrics as he played, and something in that volatile mix of untrained musicianship and wordplay affected Handy. Nothing had prepared Handy for this type of folk music, so detached from the rules of the conservatory. “As he played,” Handy later recalled, “he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars.” It was, simply, “the weirdest music I had ever heard.”10 On a subsequent tour of the area, this time in Cleveland, Mississippi, Handy listened to a band improvising a tune that was enthusiastically received by the local audience. “A rain of silver dollars began to fall around the outlandish, stomping feet,” Handy wrote, “Dollars, quarters, halves—the shower grew heavier and continued so long I strained my neck to get a better look. There before the boys lay more money than my nine musicians were being paid for the entire engagement.” “Then,” Handy succinctly summarized, “I saw the beauty of primitive music.”11

These Mississippi trips inspired Handy to begin experimenting with this new form. What Handy composed—in songs such as “St. Louis Blues,” “Memphis Blues,” and “Beale Street Blues”—was a particular type of the blues that coupled a 12-bar blues structure to a more uniform dance beat with a strong melody. Not the music of rural Mississippi, but a form that was still quite flexible in terms of form and format. What Handy helped craft was a stylized and more formal type of blues. Popular in several northern cities, especially New York City, this style of the blues would eventually add vaudeville and minstrel material into the mix to create a very distinctive, and popular, song-based genre. Performed and recorded usually with a small, almost exclusively male, band and often featuring a female singer—most notably Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Mamie Smith—this form of blues (often labeled “classic blues”) was part of a long line of black musical entertainment.

The blues, however, had many permutations during these years and reflected a wide array of influences. Musical and lyrical improvisation was central to this subgenre, as was the guitar. More portable than the piano and more harmonically open to invention than an ensemble, guitar-based blues (sometimes referred to as “country blues”) allowed for a great deal of elasticity in terms of harmony and arrangement. In addition, this form of blues was primarily a masculine form, as most of the performers were men. More extemporaneous in sound than the classic blues and more fluid in its harmonic structure, the country blues would remain a vital link to its rural roots and would lead to a series of reinventions throughout the 20th century. Still, both of these iterations shared a distinctive verse and musical structure that gave the blues a specific identity. Most notably, the blues centered on several elements that defied easy transcription via sheet music: idiosyncratic rhythms and vocalizations as well as the pronounced use of “blue notes”—notes that fall between established pitches.12 These elements were primordial in terms of human history and singing, but within the context of modern America, these sounds offered something novel and unique. More importantly—within an entertainment world centered on sheet music—the defining characteristic of the blues defied transcription. The blues arrived on a larger scene, however, just as recording technology began to coalesce. Thus, a music connected to musical techniques both ancient and not so ancient, as well as to the centuries-old history of American slavery, emerged as the key signifier to modern black life.

Together, ragtime and the blues anticipated the Jazz Age musically as well as culturally. The technological elements that helped spread ragtime and the blues helped provide a market for early jazz recordings. In addition, the various controversies connected to ragtime and the blues—especially in terms of race and morality—found fresh footing in jazz as a new expression of modernity materialized. This context helps explain the jazz era, too, as many of the same fears and arguments became attached to jazz. More than just musical antecedents, then, ragtime and the blues helped construct a national audience as well as a national conversation for jazz music. These genres underscored the interconnected society that began to shape American culture, but jazz, more than any previous music, came of age just as a national media network made possible the widespread transmission of live and recorded sound.

Jazz Origins

The history of jazz music is deeply linked to and embedded with the history of New Orleans. As ragtime and the blues began to circulate, New Orleans incubated music that would come to be called jazz, and the unique social construction of the city provided a cadre of musicians as well as an audience to support and sustain a particular form of musical expression. The key element to understanding the early development of jazz relates to its multi-dimensional role within New Orleans. The music existed within a fluid spectrum between folk and commerce, with neighbors performing for neighbors in and out of a formal entertainment world. Bars and honkytonks were settings, but so were private gatherings, funerals, dances, and a large array of other events. If the blues reflected a true folk heritage and ragtime connected to the commercial world of selling music, then jazz represented a middle way: a form that helped craft and preserve the identity of the local groups that created this new sound. Ultimately, within this unique multi-racial setting, jazz emerged from an unplanned collision of ragtime, the blues, minstrel shows, vaudeville routines, brass band repertoires, string band songs, dance music, marching music, and funeral music. The result was an improvised sound that, within a few years, would captivate the nation.13

A significant aspect as to why jazz emerged as it did in New Orleans concerned the city’s unique social order with white, black, and Creole residents living in a landscape defined by French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences. Simultaneously the quintessential southern city, as well as a place unlike in other place in the South, New Orleans offered a racial and cultural dynamism few other urban areas in the United States shared. In New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, creole musicians like pianist Jelly Roll Morton and clarinetists Alphonse Picou and Sidney Bechet, white musicians such as brass band leader “Papa” Jack Laine and cornetist Nick LaRocca, and black cornetists Buddy Bolden and Joe “King” Oliver each contributed in different ways to a flourishing music scene defined by syncopation and improvisation. At the same time, the racial fluidity that had shaped much of the early history of the city had collapsed through a series of legislative, judicial, and violent acts. By the late 1890s—as Plessy v. Ferguson (a New Orleans case) made Jim Crow a national language—the city’s Creole community, in particular, was broken down as various “One Drop” regulations destroyed the distinctive racial patterns that had long-defined New Orleans life.14 This combination of musical inventiveness and social upheaval provided early jazz a basic form as well as a cultural framework that would soon be disseminated across the entire nation.


Although born in New Orleans, early jazz developed an identity elsewhere. The Great Migration of black southerners helped redefine the landscape of the urban Midwest and northeast, and jazz music played into this transition. One of the central mythic images of the jazz story relates to a young Louis Armstrong (Figure 1) clutching a fish sandwich and waiting for a Chicago-bound train. And yet, the transposition of many of the leading jazz players out of New Orleans had an immeasurable impact on American musical culture. Railroad networks were crucial here, and the train emerged as a potent symbol of change, opportunities, movement, and freedom. Steamboats, too, played an important role, especially in terms of bringing new music to the waterways of the Midwest and upper south. Jazz and jazz-related music found fertile soil in places like Kansas City and St. Louis, which developed unique music scenes concurrent to what was happening in the urban north. Chicago, though, stood at the center of so much of the musical evolution of jazz.

Figure 1. Louis Armstrong, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, playing trumpet, 1953. (Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-127236.)

Chicago’s vast transportation system and vibrant black neighborhoods made the city attractive to thousands of black southerners. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s the black population of Chicago grew exponentially, providing both an audience and a culture supportive of jazz music in its diverse forms.15 More than providing a demographic shift, Chicago proved crucial to the transformation of jazz from a regional quasi-folk music to a national music reflective of modern America, by opening up Midwestern recording studios to recently transplanted musicians. Studios such as Gennett Records—a train ride away in Richmond, Indiana—preserved the sounds of early jazz through the recording of King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and Bix Beiderbeck, among many others. Jazz had been recorded before, and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded several sides for Columbia and Victor Records in New York City in 1917, but in the subsequent decade, recording technology eclipsed sheet music as the ideal way to transmit jazz music. Records, unlike sheet music, disseminated the significant aspects of jazz: the rhythmic pulse, the improvisational structure, and modern impulse to a growing national audience.


Radio towers, not phonograph records, supplied the majority of jazz to Americans in the late 1920s, however, and the rapid increase in households with radios, coupled with the Great Depression, made radio the dominant mode of jazz transmission. As the center of the radio industry, as well as its thriving entertainment culture, New York City would eclipse Chicago as the center of the jazz world. For the next twenty years or so, New York would define the national jazz scene as larger bands and a more arranged type of jazz would entice a larger and (increasingly whiter) audience. Although the big band variant would become the most well known, New York City encompassed several distinct styles of jazz, from Fats Waller’s solo stride piano to the polished arrangements of Fletcher Henderson to the exploratory ambitions of Duke Ellington (Figure 2). The Harlem Renaissance provided an intellectual context for this new music as the “New Negro” movement flourished.16 At the same time, white audiences began to clamor for these new variations. Part of the reason for growing white acceptance was the commercialism at the heart of New York City jazz. Unlike New Orleans jazz—and in many regards the music of Chicago—New York City jazz never had overt folk roots; the music emerged in tandem with the flourishing music business. The music, especially the big band sounds that filled dancehalls, was arranged for entertaining large groups, and by the late 1920s this style of jazz found a national audience through radio broadcasts.

Figure 2. Gordon Parks, “A trio of musicians from Duke Ellington’s orchestra during the early morning broadcast,” 1943. (Library of Congress, LC-DIG-fsa-8d13203)

Beyond larger band arrangements, with multiple instruments per section and more stylized solo breaks, the jazz made in the late 1920s and early 1930s incorporated several new instrumental changes, too. The growing use of the saxophone (no longer used as a novelty break), the dominance of the guitar over the banjo, and the plucked string bass rather than tuba, allowed for a much more modern sound. These changes coalesced along with technological breakthroughs in microphones, radio transmitters, and electrical recording techniques that allowed the sounds heard live to be broadcast with greater clarity, attack, and fidelity. What had emerged were the building blocks of swing music: the dance-driven genre that would define American popular music throughout the 1930s and 1940s.17


The large and diverse audience made possible through phonograph sales, radio broadcasts, and motion pictures produced a national musical culture. Within twenty years, jazz had left its folk music moorings of South Louisiana to become the quintessential marker of modern America. By the 1930s, much of the controversy that had shadowed jazz for years began to dissipate as a large number of Americans avidly listened to the many permutations of jazz music. Jazz, especially in its arranged big band form, defined modern America and, by World War II, was the popular music of the nation. In many ways, Benny Goodman served as the clearest expression of this new form, musically and through his biography. Born in Chicago in 1909 to a large, working-class Jewish family, Goodman soon became obsessed with the clarinet. With legitimate training from a premier tutor as well as a strong interest in hot jazz records, Goodman ably combined technical musicality with a keen ear for improvisation and rhythmic inventiveness to produce a long career of popular recordings, radio programs, and live performances (Figure 3). Goodman, aside from his musical innovations and attributes, connected directly to a developing youth culture and its identity based around the key concepts of modern America. Across four decades, a sea change in American attitudes and values had occurred due to urbanization and industrialization, demographic shifts, and technological innovations. Ragtime, the blues, and jazz each contributed to and mirrored these shifts, and the rise of a national popular culture centered on the mass production of swing music bridged the folk music of the south to the dynamic urban settings of the Midwest and to the commercially oriented centers on both coasts. No longer regionally defined, jazz was simply American music.

Figure 3. C. M. Stieglitz, “Benny Goodman, three-quarter length portrait, standing, facing down, at music stand, with clarinet,” photograph taken between 1932 and 1938. (Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-138398.)

Discussion of the Literature

Ragtime, the blues, and jazz have long interested scholars from various fields. Far from one-dimensional, these genres have encouraged a tremendous amount of creative and dynamic studies. Musicologists, of course, have been central to our understanding of the musical elements of these forms, but cultural historians, literary scholars, and others have exponentially increased our understanding of the origins of the musical forms as well as their connection to American life.

Ragtime has received comparatively less attention than the genres that followed. This relative lack of attention perhaps relates to the fact that the music came of age just before the technological revolutions that brought jazz to a national audience. Still, some strong recent work by scholars has shown the importance of ragtime both in terms of the black performer community and in terms of the way ragtime intersected business and cultural interests in the late 19th and early 20th century. David Gilbert, in particular, has pushed for ragtime to be seen as much more than simply an antecedent to the jazz age. Future avenues here should continue to contextualize ragtime in the black artistic society that helped give it vitality.18

Unlike ragtime, the blues has been the focus of numerous scholars from wildly diverse fields for decades. From literary criticism, to cultural anthropology, to art history, to critical racial theory, to southern history, to musicologists, the blues has inspired complete libraries. The blues—with its lyrical richness, musical elasticity, and historical density—has inspired a great deal of strong interdisciplinary work. With its direct connections to black life and its reverberations across rural and urban America, the blues continues to serve as a rewarding subject of study. The historiography of the blues has for decades mined the lives of known and unknown musicians, the gendered and racial tropes embedded in the form, and the various ways in which the blues mirrored and drove American culture. Today, the blues history is a diverse and nuanced field with much of the mythology burnished from the story. Still, prospective studies that continue to synthesize these issues into compelling studies of the intersectionality of American life during this period would be welcomed.

The historiography of jazz is immense, with much of the work focused on the postwar period with the music at its most explosive (especially the bop/post-bop years and the Miles Davis and John Coltrane-fueled 1960s). Recently, comparable attention has been paid to the free jazz movement, especially in terms of its connection to the turbulent racial politics of the late 1960s and 1970s. The early decades of jazz, however, have received less attention. While Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton have garnered serious studies for decades, the actual history of the music was shrouded more often than not with the vagaries of myth and legend instead of solid historical work. In the late 1970s, Donald Marquis and others began to bolster the field with strong archival research. Still, unlike the blues, early jazz was relatively neglected by scholars of race, gender, and culture until the late 1990s and early 2000s. More recently, however, several groundbreaking studies have reshaped and reenergized this incredibly important and fertile area. Between critical analytically driven studies and more synthesis-centered ones, the early decades of the jazz story have proven to be a fertile ground for thoughtful and innovative scholarly work.19

Primary Sources

New Orleans, not surprisingly, is the center for several important archives of early jazz including the phenomenally important Hogan Jazz Archive housed at Tulane University, as well as the William Russell Jazz Collection at the Historic New Orleans Collection. In addition, the Duke Ellington Collection and America’s Jazz Heritage Collection at the Smithsonian are also good resources. Other necessary archives include the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, the Chicago Jazz Archive at the University of Chicago, the National Ragtime and Jazz Archive at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and the Jazz Archive at Duke University. In addition, websites such as Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies offer an array of online resources for researchers.

For the blues, important repositories include the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi, the Chicago Blues Archive in the Chicago Public Library, the Samuel and Ann Charters Archives of Blues and Vernacular African American Musical Culture at the University of Connecticut, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and the Lomax Family Collections at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Further Reading

  • Baraka, Amira. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: Quill, 1963.
  • Brothers, Thomas. Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006.
  • Carney, Court. Cuttin’ Up: How Early Jazz Got America’s Ear. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2009.
  • Collier, James Lincoln. The Making of Jazz: A Comprehensive History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978.
  • Davis, Angela Y. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holliday. New York: Pantheon, 1998.
  • Davis, Francis. The History of the Blues: The Roots, The Music, The People From Charley Patton to Robert Cray. New York: Hyperion, 1995.
  • Gilbert, David. The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.
  • Gioia, Ted. Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music. New York: Norton, 2008.
  • Hennessey, Thomas J. From Jazz to Swing: African-American Jazz Musicians and Their Music. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994.
  • Hersch, Charles. Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
  • Kennedy, Rick. Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagie: Gennett Records and the Birth of Recorded Jazz. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
  • Kenney, William H. Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904–1930. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Leonard, Neil. Jazz and the White Americans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
  • Levine, Lawrence W. “Jazz and American Culture.” The Journal of American Folklore 102.403 (January–March 1989): 6–22.
  • Marquis, Donald M. In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978.
  • Oakley, Giles. The Devil’s Music: A History of the Blues. New York: Da Capo, 1997.
  • Ogren, Kathy J. The Jazz Revolution: Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Peretti, Burton W. The Creation of Jazz: Music, Race, and Culture in Urban America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992.
  • Schuller, Gunther. Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
  • Wald, Elijah. Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.


  • 1. Jelly Roll Morton, “I Created Jazz in 1902,” Down Beat (August 1938): 3. An early version of the letter is at the Historic New Orleans Collection. See MSS 507, “Jelly Roll Morton Correspondence,” William Russell Collection, Folder 1, Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, Louisiana.

  • 2. Alan Lomax, Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton, New Orleans Creole and Inventor of Jazz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 8. See also, Lawrence Gushee, Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 4–7; 293–295.

  • 3. Nell Irving Painter, Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877–1919 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987), 116–140.

  • 4. Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” in Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner: “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” and Other Essays, Frederick Jackson Turner and John Mack Faragher (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 31–60.

  • 5. Edward A. Berlin, Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 11–13, 26–29, 40–44.

  • 6. David A. Jasen and Gene Jones, That American Rag: The Story of Ragtime from Coast to Coast (New York: Schirmer Books, 2000), xxxv.

  • 7. Edward A. Berlin, King of Ragtime (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 11. See also Eric Lott, Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

  • 8. William Barlow, “Looking Up At Down”: The Emergence of Blues Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), 13.

  • 9. Quoted in David Meltzer, ed., Writing Jazz (San Francisco: Mercury Press, 1999), 43.

  • 10. Handy, Father of the Blues (New York: Macmillan, 1941), 74.

  • 11. Handy, Father of the Blues, 77. See also Giles Oakley, The Devil’s Music: A History of the Blues (New York: Da Capo, 1997), 40–41; and Francis Davis, The History of the Blues: The Roots, The Music, The People From Charley Patton to Robert Cray (New York: Hyperion, 1995), 23–28.

  • 12. James Lincoln Collier, The Making of Jazz: A Comprehensive History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978), 27.

  • 13. Bruce Raeburn has long argued the point that early jazz existed somewhere between folk tradition and commercialism. See Bruce Raeburn, “New Orleans Style: The Awakening of American Jazz Scholarship and Its Cultural Implications” (PhD diss., Tulane University, 1991), 25.

  • 14. Virginia R. Dominguez, White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986), 136.

  • 15. Leroy Ostransky, Jazz City: The Impact of Our Cities on the Development of Jazz (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1978), 83. See also Davarian L. Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2007), 23–25; William Howland Kenney, Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), xi–xv, 3–60; Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes, 2–19, 21–52.

  • 16. Houston A. Baker Jr. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987), 9–14. See also Samuel A. Floyd, The Power of Black Music: Interpreting its History from Africa to the United States (New York, Oxford University Press, 1995), 100–102; and Kathy J. Ogren, The Jazz Revolution: Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 116–120.

  • 17. Joel Dinerstein, Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture Between the Wars (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), 56–62.

  • 18. David Gilbert, The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

  • 19. Donald M. Marquis, In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978).