Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

by

James Weldon Johnson

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An African-American musical style based on syncopation (stressing off-beats) that emerged in the Midwest in the closing years of the 19th century and rapidly gained popularity around the United States and, eventually, the world.

Ragtime Quotes in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man quotes below are all either spoken by Ragtime or refer to Ragtime. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W.W. Norton edition of Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man published in 2015.
Chapter 6 Quotes

American musicians, instead of investigating ragtime, attempt to ignore it, or dismiss it with a contemptuous word. But that has always been the course of scholasticism in every branch of art. Whatever new thing the people like is pooh-poohed; whatever is popular is spoken of as not worth the while. The fact is, nothing great or enduring, especially in music, has ever sprung full-fledged and unprecedented from the brain of any master; the best that he gives to the world he gathers from the hearts of the people, and runs it through the alembic of his genius. In spite of the bans which musicians and music teachers have placed upon it, the people still demand and enjoy ragtime. One thing cannot be denied; it is music which possesses at least one strong element of greatness: it appeals universally.

Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

I began to wonder what this man with such a lavish natural endowment would have done had he been trained. Perhaps he wouldn't have done anything at all; he might have become, at best, a mediocre imitator of the great masters in what they have already done to a finish, or one of the modern innovators who strive after originality by seeing how cleverly they can dodge about through the rules of harmony and at the same time avoid melody. It is certain that he would not have been so delightful as he was in ragtime.

Page Number: 54-5
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

He seated himself at the piano, and, taking the theme of my ragtime, played it through first in straight chords; then varied and developed it through every known musical form. I sat amazed. I had been turning classic music into ragtime, a comparatively easy task; and this man had taken ragtime and made it classic. The thought came across me like a flash—It can be done, why can't I do it? From that moment my mind was made up. I clearly saw the way of carrying out the ambition I had formed when a boy.

Related Characters: The Narrator or “Ex-Colored Man” (speaker), The Millionaire
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ragtime Term Timeline in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

The timeline below shows where the term Ragtime appears in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...an absolutely inferior race.” The other three are the Uncle Remus Stories, Jubilee songs, and ragtime, which was so popular in Europe that Parisians simply called it “American music.” (full context)
Chapter 6
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...narrator could not help but tap his feet and fingers with the beat; it was ragtime, which had just arrived in New York from Memphis and St. Louis, where it was... (full context)
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
...harmony—“it is certain that he would not have been so delightful as he was in ragtime.” His friends had to drag him out of the bar at daybreak. (full context)
Chapter 8
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
The narrator managed to supplement his inconsistent gambling income by becoming “a remarkable player of ragtime,” using his classical training to become, reputedly, the best in New York. He played almost... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
During dinner, the narrator began to play ragtime from the adjoining room—the dining room fell silent, and some of the women in attendance... (full context)
Chapter 9
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...a party full of remarkable musicians, the narrator was supposed to impress them with a ragtime tune—after he left the piano, one of the other guests took over and played a... (full context)
Chapter 11
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
...“a grade of society of no small degree of culture,” especially since he could play ragtime—he often wanted to reveal his “Negro blood” and frequently laughed about his “capital joke” on... (full context)