A free concert Tuesday featuring early 20th-century ragtime music composed by African Americans will kick off USC Aiken's celebration of Black History Month during February.
The concert, featuring period musician Scott Kirby, will begin at 3 p.m. in the Etherredge Center. The theme is “Ragtime & Beyond.”
Ben Cox, a longtime supporter of USCA's music program, is sponsoring Kirby's performance, which is open to the public.
“We though at slam-bam musical event with a concert featuring music by black Americans would be a good way to start off Black History Month,” said Dr. Mark Hollingsworth, the dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. “It was a really, really important time in American history.”
Ragtime music ties in well with Black History Month because the style provided the foundation for much of today's music, Hollingsworth said.
“This style of music moved to New Orleans, where it became jazz, of course,” he said. “After jazz, we had swing. After that, we had jump music. Then we had rock 'n' roll. So it all ties in together. This is really the earliest roots of a lot of the modern music that we we listen to today.”
Kirby, whom Hollingsworth called “a world-renowned Ragtime pianist,” specializes in the music of early 20th-century black composers, such as Scott Joplin, Eubie Blake and Jelly Roll Morton.
“He's a real expert in this field of music,” Hollingsworth said.
During the concert, Kirby will perform a variety of Americana musical genres, according to a news release from USCA. He will highlight the worlds of classic ragtime, New Orleans jazz and blues, then expand those worlds to include the marches of John Philip Sousa, the songs of Stephen Foster, Latin-American styles, Afro-Cuban rhythms, European Romanticism, rock 'n' roll and original works ranging from the syncopated to the impressionistic, according to the release.
Hollingsworth said Kirby's concerts are more than a musical performance.
“He just doesn't sit there and play,” he said. “He talks to the audience about the music because he knows it so well and gets them involved in learning more about this type of music. We're excited to have him.”
After graduating from Ohio State University with a degree in English, Kirby moved to New Orleans and started his professional music career as a street performer, according to the release. In the next four years, he recorded the complete works of Joplin – probably best known for composing “The Entertainer,” the theme song for the movie “The Sting" – and made his debut at all the major ragtime festivals in America as well as in Belgium, France, Norway, New Zealand and Hungary.
The concert is a partnership with Diversity Initiatives in USCA's Office of Student Life. Travis Hardee, a coordinator of Diversity Initiatives, said the university's events and activities during Black History Month are designed to highlight every aspect of African American history.
“Ragtime is highlighting music. We have other events highlighting identity in the black community. We have an art wall where students can contribute artworks,” Hardee said. “We're trying to hit as many aspects surrounding black history as we can so students get a full, encompassing idea of what we're celebrating.”