The commercial explosion of ragtime in the early 20th century created previously unimagined opportunities for black performers. However, every prospect was mitigated by systemic racism. The biggest hits weren't Scott Joplin's stately piano rags. "Coon songs," with their ugly name, defined ragtime for the masses, and played a transitional role in the commercial ascendancy of blues and jazz. Ragtime history is crowned by the "big shows," the stunning musical comedy of Williams and Walker, Bob Cole, and Ernest Hogan. Under the big tent of Tolliver's Smart Set, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and others were converted from "coon shouters" to "blues singers." 200 illustrations. 461 pp.