Alexander's Ragtime Band

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"Alexander's Ragtime Band" is the name of a song by Irving Berlin. It was his first major hit, in 1911. There is some evidence, although inconclusive, that Berlin borrowed the melody from a draft composition submitted by Scott Joplin that had been submitted to a publisher.[1]

Contents

Style

Alexander's Ragtime Band" is not itself an example of the ragtime musical idiom; apart from some mild syncopation, it has almost none of ragtime's characteristic features. Nonetheless, the lyrics clearly refer to the arrival of African-American musicians on the popular scene with their then-new idea of playing standard songs in a more exciting up-tempo style.

Lyrics

The first lines establish the African-American context:

References to "jazzing up" popular music include:

and:

The new style included new ways of playing traditional instruments as well:

History

Vaudeville singer Emma Carus, famed for her "female baritone", is said to have been largely responsible for successfully introducing the song in Chicago and helping contribute to its immense popularity. It became identified with her, and soon worked its way back to New York where Al Jolson also began to perform it.[2]

The song has been recorded by many artists, including The Andrews Sisters, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Bee Gees, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, George Formby, Al Jolson, Liberace, Billy Murray, Liza Minnelli, Bessie Smith and Julie Andrews.

The song had a presence on the charts for five straight decades. According to Newsweek Magazine:

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