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josepp The hidden history of swing (39) RE: The hidden history of swing 02 Aug 11

But when exactly did swing come into play on the American music scene? Therein lies the rub. We're not sure. What we can surmise is that one of the sources of jazz is ragtime. This is not to say that ragtime was an early form of jazz. Certainly Scott Joplin's pieces were not early jazz being much more closely related classical music. There would need to be an intermediate musical form to assist in the transformation of ragtime to jazz and there was—the cakewalk.

The cakewalk, which actually precedes ragtime, is both a dance and a musical form. The cakewalk dance was originally done by slave couples decked out in their best Sunday regalia performing the most ridiculous, most exaggerated, most ostentatious walk between two lines of dancers with the winners getting a huge cake as a prize (they were mocking white people's style of dance). The cakewalk evolved into a 2-step dance made famous by Charles E. Johnson and his wife Dora. Cakewalk as a musical genre started in the 1871 with Rollin Howard's "Good Enough" which is the first known published cakewalk and then in 1876 with a piece by Harrigan & Hart called "Walking For Dat Cake."

Cakewalking music was further popularized in the 1890s with black composers as Ernest Hogan who wrote "coon songs" in cakewalk format.

But whites, long accustomed to performing in blackface and singing in pseudo-Negro dialects due to minstrelsy (of which cakewalk is a part), were very taken with the coon songs—many of which were terribly racist such as Lew Dockstader's "Coon Coon Coon."

Eventually, blacks abandoned cakewalk music almost entirely with Hogan even apologizing for starting it. As a result, cakewalk pieces are more white than black since the true cakewalk pieces we have today from that era were written almost exclusively by whites and three composers specialized in them: Abe Holzmann, J. Bodewalt Lampe, and Kerry Mills—all white. John Philip Souza and Arthur Pryor (formerly with Souza) also played cakewalks with their marching bands. But the line between cakewalk and ragtime is blurred. Scott Joplin and Arthur Marshall wrote "Swipesy Cakewalk" in 1901 and many ragtime scholars pronounce the piece to be a rag and not a cakewalk; yet, it certainly sounds more like a cakewalk than a rag to me but then John Stark, Joplin's publisher, actually named the piece. We can only wonder if he truly thought the piece was a cakewalk (possibly because the authors told him it was) or whether his use of the term was whimsical. Cakewalk as a dance remained popular among both whites and blacks as evidenced by the popularity of vaudeville team of Bert Williams and George Walker in the early part of the 20th century who were the premier cakewalkers of that time and even Teddy Roosevelt stated they were cakewalking in the White House during their leisure moments.

The cakewalk dance glided easily into the early jazz age where it continued to be popular. So while ragtime was a source of jazz, it was the cakewalk that propelled ragtime into jazz because the dance gave the idea of "swing." In fact, the cakewalk evolved or mutated into a true jazz dance known very famously as the lindy-hop. In the clip below, white cakewalking couples on the beach engage in certain moves that are extremely reminiscent of the lindy-hop:

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