Rudiments of Ragtime Installment 11: Ragtime Recordings

Recorded ragtime music is fortunate to have had several fine historians (see References). Several of these diligent men and women have given us fine discographies of the early performers and composers.

Contemporary performer and researcher Ramona Baker has credited Edward Issler’s Orchestra with perhaps the earliest syncopated instrumental recording; a 1890s cakewalk, “Patrol Comique.” For the most part Ramona’s work has focused on early studio pianists of the wax cylinder era.

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Historian and performer David Jasen published a fine discography of the earliest recordings though most are not classic ragtime. He noted Sousa’s Band recorded “At a Georgia Camp Meeting” in 1899 on the Berliner label. After Arthur Pryor left the Sousa Band to form his own, he recorded several ragtime pieces, including, “Mr. Black Man” in 1903.

Vess L. Ossman plays “Maple Leaf Rag” on Columbia cylinder 33133, recorded in 1907. (courtesy @Onkel_Greifenklau; via YouTube)

The U.S. Marine Corps Band is usually credited with the first recording of Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1906, followed by Vess Ossman’s Columbia recording with Prince’s Band in 1907.

The Library of Congress National Registry of Recorded Sound celebrates the most noteworthy recordings in history, including Scott Joplin’s piano rolls produced by the composer in 1916.


The popularity of syncopated dance music drove instrumental ragtime recording until the public’s interest turned to vocal ragtime and then moved on to jazz after World War I.


Baker, Ramona; “Rare Ragtime on Phonograph Records: Recording Pioneers;The Syncopated Times online, 31 August 2022

Charters, Sam and Anne; Recorded Ragtime Series; Folkways Records (liner notes)

Jason, David; Recorded Ragtime:1897-1958; Archon Books; 1973.

Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at [email protected].

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