What Is Ragtime Banjo Revival All About?

Ragtime Banjo Revival (RBR) is a bold cultural outreach project that aims to grow and strengthen community through live and recorded experiences of historical popular music. RBR revives the joy of ragtime banjo music by illuminating its presence in our shared musical past — and by answering the question most people, in and outside of music circles, haven’t lately thought to ask: Why ragtime, and why now?

The answer lies in the very sounds and stories of this project. Despite its trajectory from the most popular music in the English-speaking world to near-fatal obscurity, this music, its creators, and its history live on today in our relationships with music, popular culture, identity, and history. While audiences tap and hum along with the project’s inspired arrangements, they’ll learn enough to change the way they listen to music and the way they engage with the development of culture. With a curious and optimistic spirit, RBR educates and inspires, welcoming the newcomer and cultivating respect across areas of difference.

Connecting Communities Through Music

RBR builds connections between individuals in the present moment and forms connections between the past and the future. The experience of live music provides opportunities to exist in the present and connect with each other as well as with a living bridge to ancestors and descendants.

Setting the Record Straight

RBR brings the then-common practice of appropriation through intellectual property theft to light. For example, “Raggin’ the Scale” was written by Eubie Blake and Hughie Wolford, but the copyright was registered by another composer, Edward Claypole. RBR provides context for stories like this one and gives credit where credit is due.

Celebrating Innovation

This project pays tribute to the unnamed inventors of the banjo as well as to the famous and not-so-famous composers who developed ragtime music through its original arrangements for new ensembles. The music of RBR is both old and new, as these arrangements have never before been recorded.

Exploring Culture & History

The banjo was created by enslaved Africans on stolen land and the contributions of Black Americans have made the United States wealthy both materially and culturally. We cannot move forward towards a more just and equitable future without acknowledging and understanding how we got here. The stories of the banjo deal with colonization, appropriation, community survival and innovation, and these stories need to be told.

Delighting in Creativity

Ragtime music is refreshing and easy to enjoy. Experiencing this music, whether live or recorded, is both enlivening and relaxing. One of the aims of RBR is to inspire listeners to engage more actively with the cultures they’re a part of, and to serve as an example of creativity in action.

Taking a Break from the Noise

RBR may remind us of a time before email and social media, even a time before television and radio and recorded music. This is an invitation to take a break from the noise of screen time, traffic, consumerism, etc., and connect with the timeless joy that comes from shared musical experience.

Watch Our Video to Learn About the Ragtime Revival Banjo Project

Our Goal

Ragtime Banjo Revival includes arrangements for string quartet and wind quintet as well as ensemble pieces with pipe organ, piano, marimba, brass, and more. The music will be performed live in Detroit with a strong roster of local artists, and worldwide at festivals, universities and music schools, and in collaboration with professional orchestras and chamber ensembles with a dynamic presentation focused on inclusion and connection. Recordings will be released in various formats including vinyl, streaming, and printed sheet music with original illustrations and banjo tablature.