African music entered the American culture when the slave trade brought almost half a million Africans to the United States. Festivals at such places as Congo Square in New Orleans allowed slaves to perform their music and similar gatherings took place in New England and New York. As African-Americans became familiar with western music and instruments and were introduced to harmony through religious hymn, they mimicked what they heard through cakewalk dances and spirituals. White America also started absorbing African American music expressed through composers like Stephen Foster and through minstrels shows.
Where segregation limited employment opportunities for most African Americans, black musicians were able to provide entertainment in dance-halls, minstrel shows and in vaudeville. Black pianists played in bars, clubs, and brothels. By the 1890’s from this mix Ragtime with its “syncopation” developed. At first Ragtime was passed to white musicians who started making early sound recordings. Tom Turpin published his HARLEM RAG in 1899, the first rag published by an African-American. In 1899 a classically trained African American pianist Scott Joplin became the “King of Ragtime” with his international hit “MAPLE LEAF RAG”. His work combined syncopation, banjo figurations and sometimes call-and-response.
In 1912 rags and the various dances that spin off from the are loved by the young and frowned upon by the old. Thanks to the popularity of records and cylinders, rags are snapped up and recorded to be enjoyed and danced to by a ever-growing consuming public.
Fred Van Eps was born in Somerville, New Jersey in 1878. He became fascinated with the banjo when he heard a cylinder recording of early Ragtime pioneer Vess L Ossman in 1896. He learned banjo by carefully listening to Ossman’s recordings. He started recording for Edison in 1897. He became a popular musician and called himself a “banjoist.” By 1910 he was recording with his brother William and pianist Felix Arndt calling themselves “The Van Eps Trio.”
On July 26, 1912 the Van Eps Trio went into the Victor Recording studios in Camden, New Jersey and recorded “Florida Rag”.
“Florida Rag” by George L Lowry recorded by the Van Eps Trio
Thanks to the fantastic collection of recordings at the University of California Santa Barbara – Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings : http://victor.library.ucsb.edu/index.php