The triumph of minstrelsy and the arrival of ragtime song at the end of the nineteenth century marked the end of genteel Victorian balladry with its ‘thees’ and ‘thous’. Street slang and everyday speech invaded lyrics and Americans were revealed in their true raw colors. A new kind of singer emerged, bursting with drive and an invitation to the public to cut loose and have a good time.
Sophie Tucker, large and commanding, became the ragtime mama who could give the men a run for their money, while Gene Greene with jaunty straw hat and confident strut sang of ragtime kings in distant lands and introduced scat singing. Later came Marion Harris, from a high-class southern background, with her clear enunciation and skilled interpretation of the new blues jazz/pop songs. All three were pioneers of a truly American vernacular style, made through force of personality and sheer drive, without benefit of microphone.