Ragtime · Blues · Hot Piano
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 Jelly Roll Morton · Relatives · Associates · Musicians
 Ragtime Composers · Bandleaders · Authors · Broadcasters

Introduction  ·  Jelly Roll Morton  ·  Relatives  ·  Associates
Musicians  ·  Ragtime Composers  ·  Bandleaders
Authors  ·  Broadcasters  ·  References  ·  Kudos

Ragtime Composers


Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Roy F. Bargy

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

Roy Bargy was a pianist, composer, arranger and conductor from the 1910s through the early 1940s. He was born in Newaygo, MI on 31st July 1894 and was the son of Frederick H. Bargy (1860-?) and Jessie McKee Bargy (1855-?). Roy took piano lessons from the age of 4, and made his solo debut in 1910 in Toledo, Ohio where his family had moved in about 1897. Although all of his training was in the classical music sphere, Roy’s interest in popular music began around 1911, the era of the great popularity of Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band. By the mid-teens, Bargy led his own band in jobs in and around Toledo.

On June 5th 1917, Bargy registered for the draft, as shown on the card. He gives his occupation as musician and his employer as “Country Club, Toledo, O.” Eventually, Bargy enlisted with an eye towards becoming an officer and going ‘over there.’ By July 1918, Bargy was a member of the 24th Company at Camp Sherman, near Chillicothe, Ohio (190 miles south of Toledo), and the leader of “The Jolly Sextet.” A newspaper account mentions that Bargy also played the ukelele in this ensemble. Although Bargy was offered the post of permanent pianist in the camp (which was the third largest of the training camps established by the U.S. armed forces during WWI), he “declined for Roy is interested in military life — wants to be a real soldier and ‘go across.’” During Roy’s stay at Camp Sherman, he occasionally made the trip up to Toledo to visit with his parents, and on at least one occasion they came to visit him. Bargy was fortunate enough to survive the great Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, during which Camp Sherman was quarantined for a time and thousands of soldiers there died. In the autumn, Bargy was sent to officer’s training school at Camp Gordon, Georgia, where he was stationed at the time of the Armistice of 11/11/18. An article in a Toledo newspaper announced Roy’s safe return to Toledo on December 1, 1918, doubtless to the great relief of his 63-year-old mother. Roy’s military service had amounted to eight months.

He took a full-time job making player piano rolls for the Imperial Co. in September 1919, where he worked with Charley Straight and composed about a dozen rags for release on rolls, among them such numbers as Pianoflage and Jim Jams. Eight of the pieces, including two that had actually been composed by Charley Straight before Straight and Bargy had met — Knice and Knifty and Rufenreddy — were published by Sam Fox in Cleveland in 1922. By the time those pieces had been published, Bargy (and Straight) had left Imperial, which was absorbed by the industry leader, QRS, in 1922. Bargy led the Benson Orchestra in Chicago for a couple of years, then went with Isham Jones’s band for several years. In December 1927, Bargy joined the Paul Whiteman orchestra, which he played with and eventually became second-in-command of, until 1940.

Bargy admired and learned from a number of African-American composers and pianists, from very early in his career back in Toledo, where he met and learned from Luckey Roberts and Johnny Walters through Bargy’s years in Chicago, where he probably met Jelly Roll Morton. In 1972, Roy told Bruce and Tom Arneson that that he’d thought Morton was among the finest pianists he’d ever heard.
[RT 8-11] For his part, Morton “agreed unhesitatingly” with Morton’s friend Roy Carew “that Bargy was a fine pianist.” Morton was not one to praise a fellow pianist lightly, so one can be confident that the high regard these two pianists held each other was quite sincere. [RP 1]

© November 2006 Dr. Robert Pinsker


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James Hubert Blake

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

Eubie Blake claimed from 1928 that he was born in 1883. In the course of my research in 2001 and 2002, I discovered that Eubie, like Jelly Roll, had misrepresented his age and was actually born in 1887. The article, incorporating the documentary evidence I had found, was published on this website in January 2003 to a considerable amount of disbelief. Subsequent documents digitized on the website of the Maryland Historical Society, which holds all the Blake papers, put the issue beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Some writers have steadfastly refused to change Blake’s birth year to 1887, while others have made claims that they knew all along, and it was an “open secret”. The honest researchers admitted that they had suspicions, but could not find sufficient documentary proof.

Eubie Blake’s draft registration card adds further evidence, if any were needed, that he was born in 1887, and that he misrepresented his age for many years. The draft card also records that Eubie claimed exemption from service on the grounds that he was the sole support of his mother, Mrs. Emma Blake, and his wife, Avis.
[PH 6]

© January 2007 Peter Hanley


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Sanford Brunson Campbell

WWI Draft Registration Card
6th September 1918

The ragtime era, stretching from the last years of the 19th century to the end of the second decade of the 20th century, produced many fine pianists who were forced by the social conventions of the time to ply their trade in honkytonks, barrelhouses, vaudeville theatres, movie theatres, music stores, hotels, steamboats, saloons, and, of course, the multitude of sporting houses throughout the United States. One of the very early white ragtime pianists spreading the ragtime gospel in extensive travels throughout the Midwest, the South and the Southwest, was Brun Campbell, known variously as The Ragtime Kid, The Original Ragtime Kid, The Dude, The Indian Kid, Kid Campbell, and Brunnie Campbell.

Sanford Brunson Campbell was born on 26th March 1884 in Washington, Washington County, Kansas, a small town founded in 1860 in the northern central part of the territory, which was admitted to Statehood on 29th January 1861 as the 34th State of the Union. His father was Lewis E. Campbell, a barber and later travelling salesman, born in Wisconsin in 1867, and his mother was Lula (Emilie) Bourquin, born in Indiana of French parents in 1868. Both parents were musical. His father strummed the guitar and sang in a barbershop quartet and his mother picked the banjo, so it was natural that Brun took up the piano at an early age and became a competent pianist by the time he reached his teens.

The Campbell family had the proverbial itchy feet, and just about every other year was a moving day for them. From Washington, Kansas they went to Oberlin, Kansas where Brun’s younger brother, Harold, was born on 15th July 1891; then on to St. Joseph, Missouri followed by Arkansas City, Kansas in 1893; Guthrie, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City and El Reno, Oklahoma; and back to Arkansas City, Kansas, as recorded in the Kansas Census of 1st March 1905. Their final recorded moves in the Midwest were to Tulsa and Chickasha, both in Oklahoma around 1910. From Oklahoma, they turned up in Los Angeles, California with Brun and Harold by the time of the U.S. Census of 1st January 1920.

Brun was even more of a wanderer and, in 1898, ran away from home with the son of a local doctor to Oklahoma City, an event that was to introduce him to the classic ragtime of African-Americans. In Oklahoma City, he found his way to the Armstrong-Byrd Music Store, sat down at the piano, and began playing some popular songs of the day. A crowd gathered and after a time, a young mulatto stepped forward and placed a pen and ink manuscript on the piano bearing the title Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin. Campbell played the piece at sight with only a few mistakes, and the young mulatto introduced himself as Otis Saunders, a fine pianist, who said he was going to Sedalia, Missouri in a few days to see his friend, Joplin.

After his return to Arkansas City, his newly acquired interest in classic ragtime inspired him to leave home again, and seek out Joplin and Saunders in Sedalia, Missouri. This he did, and, at Saunders’ request, played for Joplin who agreed to teach him the Joplin style of ragtime. In addition, Joplin taught Campbell to play his first four rags: Original Rags, Maple Leaf Rag, Sun Flower Slow Drag, and Swipesy Cake Walk. Brun became the first white pianist to play and master these Joplin rags. The Sedalia trip also encompassed Saint Louis and Kansas City where he met and heard almost all of the early African-American pianists and composers of ragtime. Besides Joplin and Saunders, he met Tom Turpin, Louis Chauvin whom he considered as one of the great pianists of that era, Scott Hayden, Arthur Marshall, Tony Williams, Melford Alexander, Jim and Ida Hastings. He had this to say about their playing:

“None of the original pianists played ragtime the way it was written. They played their own style. Some played march time, fast time, slow time and some played ragtime blues style. But none of them lost the melody and if you knew the player and heard him a block away you could name him by his ragtime style.” [JRBC 11]

Later on, Campbell met Charley Thompson, the Saint Louis pianist he considered as better than Louis Chauvin, and the great New Orleans duo, Tony Jackson and Jelly Roll Morton:

“I would like to give the late Jelly Roll Morton, of New Orleans, credit for his early contribution to ragtime, which was King Porter Stomp, of 1906. He named it after Porter King, a great Negro pianist of the Gulf Coast. Another great Negro pianist of New Orleans was Tony Jackson, and he could out-play the great Jelly Roll Morton. The music these great Negro composers developed will live forever, and I am proud of the fact I was associated with them at the beginning.” [JJBC]

Playing ragtime was an exciting life for Campbell, and he played for many famous people of his day: Teddy Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill (William C. Cody), Pawnee Bill, Governor Ferguson of Indian Territory, the noted minstrel man Lew Dockstader, Bat Masterson, and the outlaws, Cole Younger, Frank James, Emmett Dalton and Henry Starr. His greatest thrill was playing Maple Leaf Rag at the Kerfoot Hotel in El Reno, Oklahoma for Pawnee Bill, whose real name was Gordon Lillie. Lillie was the proprietor with his wife, May Manning, of the Pawnee Bill Historical Wild West Show, a spectacular show which was usually staged at their ranch at Pawnee, Oklahoma. Brun recalled that “twenty years later I met him in Tulsa and he asked me to play it again.” [TAPR 30]

The wandering life of a ragtime pianist came to a halt for Brun when he married his first wife, Ethel, in 1908 and settled down in Tulsa, Oklahoma as a barber, a trade he had learned from his father. The marriage does not appear to have lasted much more than a few years for he was living with his parents in Los Angeles at the time of the 1920 U.S. Census. Brun married his second wife, Marjorie, in the 1920s and they settled in Venice, California about 1928. They lived at 770-C Crestmore Place, Venice, from 1930 until the early 1950s.

Brun operated a barber shop for more than twenty years at 711 Venice Boulevard, next to the Venice City Hall, which became a Mecca for the growing number of ragtime enthusiasts in the 1940s. Despite the fact that he claimed he had not touched a piano from the early 1920s to the early 1940s, Norm Pierce, proprietor of Jack’s Record Cellar in San Francisco, informed Paul Affeldt, of Euphonic Records and Jazz Report Magazine, that he sold barber’s supplies door to door in 1933 in the depression, and visited the Campbell barber shop regularly. Pierce said that Brun had a piano in the back room of his shop, and played for him a number of times and impressed him greatly. For Brun, it seemed to be a case of never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. A rare photograph of Brun and Kid Ory, taken about 1951, is reproduced in Floyd Levin’s fine article on Brun published in the December 1970 issue of Jazz Journal.

Placed at the forefront of the ragtime revival of the 1940s on the West Coast, he was a fountain of information for Blesh and Janis in their research for their great book, “They All Played Ragtime”. Recordings of his playing were made by West Coast Records and Ray Avery’s Echoes label, both of which were acquired by Paul Affeldt who issued most of the recordings on Euphonic LPs ESR 1201 and 1202, which have recently been reissued on Delmark CD 753 with all the surviving alternate takes. Campbell’s playing on these recordings reveals a folk style rather than a classic style of playing, with snatches of popular tunes incorporated in his rags, much in the manner of Francis X. McFadden’s Rags to Burn, published in 1899, and the fine rags of Charles Hunter.

Sanford Brunson Campbell died in Venice, California on 23rd November 1952.
[PH 36]

© February 2009 Peter Hanley


Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

George Linus Cobb

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

George Linus Cobb was a prolific composer of ragtime music and popular songs. Born August 31, 1886 in Mexico, New York, Cobb is likely most well-known for his Russian Rag (1918), a “ragging the classics” version of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C sharp minor, Opus 3, No. 2. Most discographies on Cobb list at most 25 to 30 compositions, including his rags and his popular Dixie songs. However, recent research has documented that he composed over 200 published compositions (with about 125 of those being instrumentals). His earliest published compositions are two marches published in 1905, being Dimples and Mr. Yankee. He is also known to have published at least 6 compositions under the pseudonym “Leo Gordon.”

According to David A. Jasen and Gene Jones in “That American Rag”, Cobb entered the School of Harmony and Composition at Syracuse University in 1905 (at the age of 19).
[TAR 228]  He later won a competition in Buffalo in 1909 for his composition Buffalo Means Business. Jasen and Jones in “That American Rag” surmise that it was likely around this time that Cobb hooked up with Jack Yellen who worked at the Buffalo Daily Courier. [TAR 229]  Yellen came to be Cobb’s main lyricist with the two of them composing over 25 songs together. Cobb and Yellen’s success on Tin Pan Alley resulted in a number of hits, with their first attempt being All Aboard for Dixieland (1913).

George L. Cobb’s first published rag was Rubber Plant Rag: A Stretcherette (1909), published with Walter Jacobs in Boston. Jacobs went on to become his major publisher and employer when Cobb later became a staff writer for Jacobs’ “Tuneful Yankee” and “Melody” magazines.

George Linus Cobb registered for the WWI draft on 5th June 1917, when he was 30 years old. The draft card shows his occupation as a “composer and arranger of music” with his wife, mother and father listed as his dependents. On the back of the draft card, Cobb is described as tall and stout, with gray eyes and brown and gray hair. His only possible medical impairment appears to be that he suffered from a hernia.

George L. Cobb was a versatile composer who was able to survive the passing of the ragtime era through his composition of novelty piano pieces, including The New Russian Rag (1923), a novelty piano version of his early ragtime version of the same piece. Many of his recently “rediscovered” compositions were published in “Melody” magazine. “The Rags of George L. Cobb,” a comprehensive essay compiled by the writer, provides full and free access to about 150 of 170 of Cobb’s pre-1923 compositions.

Although Cobb stopped publishing in the late 1920s, his last known work appears to have been a WW2 song called When Uncle Sam Comes to Town: Mow ’Em Down, Mow ’Em Down, Mow ’Em Down (1942), as listed in the British Library catalog. George Linus Cobb died in Brookline, Massachusetts on Christmas Day, 1942. [TT 1]

© November 2006 Ted Tjaden


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Robert Hampton

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

One of the members of the later school of classic ragtime in St. Louis was the fine pianist and composer, Robert Hampton. Hampton was born in Tuscumbia, Colbert County, a small city in north western Alabama in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the Tennessee River valley. Tuscumbia is only a short distance from the Muscle Shoals, a forty-three mile stretch of shallow rapids on the Tennessee River. By the time of the 1900 U.S. Census (1st June 1900), Hampton’s widowed mother, Annie (nee Maddox) had moved with her two sons to Little Rock, Arkansas, and they were living at 1513 Chester Street in the 3rd Ward.

Nothing is known of Rob Hampton’s introduction to music but the family moved to St. Louis, the capital of ragtime, where he worked as a musician by 1910, when the family were living at 2926 Pine Street in the 17th Ward.
(1910 U.S. Census)  Whatever his skills at the piano, he was unable to read music, like so many ragtime players of that era.

Early in 1914, Jelly Roll Morton arrived in the city of St. Louis with McCabe’s Minstrels where he quit the show, and was hired as a singer at a nightclub called the Democratic Club.
[AFS 1653-B] and [AFS 1654-A] Jelly Roll obviously heard Rob Hampton play, although he remembered him as Bob Hamilton, and recalled that, “they had a lot of ‘em. Like Bob Hamilton — played pretty good — in fact real good. But of course he couldn’t read any music, and it was pretty tough when we get those tough tunes.” [AFS 1653-B] There is no evidence whatsoever that Hampton had any influence on Mister Jelly Lord.

It was at this time that John Stark & Son published Robert Hampton’s only surviving compositions: The Dogin’ Rag (with words by Frank Gray) in 1913, Cataract Rag, one of the finest rags of the classic era, in 1914, and his swan song, Agitation Rag in 1915. These publications were probably arranged by Artie Matthews. Hampton is said to have composed more than forty numbers, but only the three published by Stark are all that remain.
[TAPR 257]

When Hampton registered for the draft on 5th June 1917, he gave his date of birth as 25th July 1891, which is a variation from other birth dates on the public record. The 1900 U.S. Census has September 1890, which is consistent with ages given in the U.S. Censuses for 1910, 1920 and 1930, while his death certificate records the date as 10th August 1890. At the time of registration for the draft, Hampton was working as a musician in Madison, Illinois, a short drive from downtown St. Louis, for Fred Fuger, (born 1880 in Germany), who also managed Belchers Café at 519 Market Street, St. Louis.

Rob Hampton continued to work as a musician in St. Louis, and in 1920 was living at 2995 Laclede Avenue, not far from the office of the great ragtime publisher, John Stilwell Stark.
(1920 U.S. Census)  However, by 1930 he had moved to Los Angeles where the 1930 U.S. Census recorded him residing at 852 East Adams Street. His occupation was listed as a musician in an orchestra.

In 1943, Rob Hampton was playing in St. Louis, and living at Laclede Avenue, where he was interviewed by William Russell, before heading back to the West Coast.
[TAPR 264-265] He died in Los Angeles on 25th September 1945. (California Death Certificate SSN 490-18-8585)  [PH 32]

© March 2008 Peter Hanley


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Tony Junius Jackson

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Tony Jackson was the dean of the Storyville professors, a pianist and singer admired by all who heard him, including his great rival and fellow traveller, Ferd (Jelly Roll) Morton, who was not always generous in his praise of other musicians. Known as “the man who knew a thousand songs” and the “world’s greatest single-handed entertainer,” Tony was much more than a ragtime or jazz pianist. Although self-taught, he was, according to Roy Carew, a pianist of superior ability as well as a singer whose like we have never seen since. Clarence Williams (1893-1965), who knew Tony well, asserted that he “was on the order of how [Nat] King Cole is now, only much better,” while the blues singer Alberta Hunter (1895-1984) said that Tony was one of the greatest accompanists she had ever heard.

Much misinformation has been published about Tony’s birth date, in the main resulting from details written by Blesh and Janis in their classic work “They All Played Ragtime”.
[TAPR 169]  Blesh and Janis, in the course of their research for the book, had interviewed Tony’s sisters, Miss Ida Jackson and Mrs. Maria(h) Sutton, at their Chicago apartment at 4111 South Wabash Avenue. Tony’s birth date was recorded in the book as 1876, and 5th June 1876 has been the date usually given since then. However, it appears that Ida Jackson must have misunderstood the question from the pioneer writers on ragtime, because she herself was born in New Orleans in June 1876.

Although he juggled his age as he saw fit, it now seems certain that Tony Junius Jackson was born in New Orleans on First Street, between Annunciation and Rousseau, on 25th October 1882, the twin son of Rachel Jackson (née Dennis) (1845-1913), said to have been born in Richmond, Virginia, and Antonio (Tony) Jackson (1845-1916), a labourer and fisherman born in South Carolina. Tony’s birth date deduced from his age recorded in U.S. Census records shows a variation from census to census: age 17 (born October 1882) on 1st June 1900; 24 on 15th April 1910 (that is, born in 1885); and 32 on 1st January 1920 (that is, born in 1887). The date shown on his World War I Draft Card was different again, with a birth date of 25th October 1884.

The issue is placed beyond any shadow of a doubt by the death certificate of his twin brother, Prince Albert Jackson, who died in New Orleans on 5th January 1884 at the age of fourteen months.
(Orleans Parish Death Records, Volume 84, page 261)

By the turn of the century, Tony was playing in the saloons and bordellos of Storyville, and soon became the most popular pianist and entertainer in the District. In the summer of 1904, he made what was probably the only tour of the vaudeville theatres in his career. He was engaged as featured entertainer with the “Whitman Sisters’ New Orleans Troubadours”, with his fellow Storyville pianist, Albert Carroll, as musical director. [IF 23704]

Tony soon tired of the rigours of travelling with a theatrical company, and left the Whitman Sisters when they reached Louisville, Kentucky. In the home of the Kentucky Derby, he met two of the leading pianists of the sporting world there, Glover Compton (1884-1964) with whom he formed a long-term friendship, and (“Piano”) Price Davis (1878-c.1910), the acknowledged leader of ragtime pianists in Louisville. [TAPR 173] Davis was born in Cave City, Barrow County, Kentucky in October 1878, and he and his mother and brothers later moved to Louisville. His fame spread to the neighbouring state of Indiana, and many sports came from near and far to hear him play. Success made a gambler and sport of him until he drifted to the sporting district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he died a few years later.

Back in New Orleans before the end of 1904, Tony played in the bordello of Madame Antonia Gonzales, the “only singer of Opera and Female Cornetist in the Tenderloin,” according to the edition for that year of the Blue Book, the directory of the New Orleans red-light district. It was at this time in the winter of 1904-1905 that the young Roy Carew, just twenty one years old and recently arrived from his native Michigan, first heard Tony play and sing while standing on the footpath near the window of Madame Tonia’s parlour at the corner of Villere and Iberville (Customhouse) Streets. Tony’s playing and singing so impressed Carew that he later sought out Tony, and the two became firm friends until Tony left New Orleans for good nearly a decade later.

As well as playing in the high-class bordellos, Tony played frequently at Frank Early’s Café at the corner of Franklin and Bienville Streets. In 1905, he made his first trip to Chicago with Bob Caldwell, a pianist from New Orleans of mediocre ability. Using New Orleans as a base, he made another trip to Chicago in the winter of 1907-1908, playing at Bob Russell and Sidney Dago’s Café on the Southside, where Roy Carew visited him in 1909 on his way to Grand Rapids, Michigan to see his family. Tony was back in New Orleans before the date of the 1910 U.S. Census on 15th April, for he was recorded living with his parents at 3928 Laurel Street in the 12th Ward. He left New Orleans permanently about 1912 to settle in Chicago, and returned only when his mother died in January 1913.

The life in Chicago suited Tony, and he was one of the best and most popular musicians in the Southside, stopping traffic, as Jelly Roll said, on State Street at Teenan Jones’ Elite No. 1 and Elite No. 2, and later at the Pekin Café. His sister, Ida Jackson, and his brother-in-law and second oldest sister, David and Maria Sutton, moved to Chicago about 1915 and lived with Tony in his apartment at 4111 South Wabash Avenue for the last several years of his life. Tony did not make any records, but published nine songs in the period from 1916 to 1920, including the very popular Pretty Baby, written much earlier in New Orleans, which is still played today.

Tony was a heavy drinker in his Chicago days and earlier, and suffered from cirrhosis of the liver for some years before he died in his apartment of that complaint on 20th April 1921 at thirty-eight years of age.

Al Rose and Edmond Souchon obtained a certified copy of Tony’s death certificate in July 1959, which was reproduced in the three editions of their fine publication “New Orleans Jazz: A Family Album”.
[NOJ] The details of his death have been well-publicised for over forty years. [PH 34]

© November 2008 Peter Hanley


Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

James P. Johnson

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

All of the musicians that knew Jelly Roll Morton had strong opinions about him, as documented in the dozens of interviews in William Russell’s “Oh, Mister Jelly.” The African–American pianists in New York in the late 1920s and 1930s knew Morton well and many of them, such as Willie “The Lion” Smith and Duke Ellington, had low opinions of Morton’s musicianship and playing ability. Unique among the pianistic giants in New York, the renowned James P. Johnson (1894–1955), generally acknowledged as “The Father of Stride Piano,” seems to have always had a high estimation of Jelly Roll’s musicianship, from the time he first heard Morton in New York around 1911 (or 1912, according to Johnson’s close friend Willie “The Lion”). [OMJ 448]  Johnson stated that he was “able to appreciate him [Morton] then, but I couldn’t steal his stuff. I wasn’t good enough yet.” He then proudly added: “In 1943, though, they picked me to impersonate his style at the New Orleans Jazz Carnival.” It is likely that the engagement to which he refers was the “Esquire Magazine All–American Jazz Concert” of 17th January 1945, in which he was the pianist in “Louis Armstrong’s Jazz Foundation Six” in a live, nationally–broadcast concert from New Orleans.

The period of Johnson’s career around the date of the required draft registration (5th June 1917) was an extremely busy one, full of firsts for him. In the primary source of information about his early career, which is the series of interviews Johnson did with Tom Davin, published as “Conversations With James P. Johnson,” he calls 1916–1918 “The Giggin’ Years,” referring to the many short engagements of various kinds he played.
[TD]  Sometime during the previous year, Johnson had met Will Farrell, an African–American songwriter and performer, and had learned from Farrell how to notate his compositions. Farrell also wrote lyrics for them, probably having convinced Johnson that there was much more of a market for songs than for instrumentals. Johnson and Farrell sold two of the songs and a march (instrumental) to the publisher F. B. Haviland. Haviland copyrighted Mama’s Blues on 10th May 1917, Stop It on 21st August 1917, and the march Boys of Uncle Sam on 5th July 1917. These three were the first compositions of Johnson’s to be published. Judging from the frequency of different piano roll versions of Mama’s Blues that are found today, it could be concluded that this tune had some popularity.

Earlier in 1917, or possibly late in 1916, Johnson had made the first of his many player piano rolls, for the Aeolian Company. The first few of these rolls were released by Aeolian on their Universal and Metro–Art labels in May 1917. All of the rolls recorded for Aeolian were of his own compositions, with the exception of his roll of After Tonight, which was composed by his songwriting partner Will Farrell.
[JPJR]  Also during 1917 Johnson reported having cut his first phonograph record, of his Caprice Rag, for a company that later became Okeh records. Unfortunately the record was never released, and Johnson’s solo piano was not heard on records until September 1921 (Johnson’s Harlem Strut on the Black Swan label).

Yet another kind of gig that Johnson had in 1917 was to be part of a five–piece ensemble that appeared onstage as part of a Broadway show. “What’s Your Husband Doing?” a farce by George V. Hobart that opened at the 39th Street Theatre on 12th November 1917 and ran about 40 performances, included a scene with a band. The review of the production that appeared in The New York Times on 13th November mentions a scene in “a roadhouse on the Boston Post Road” (a major road connecting Boston and New York), which would likely be the scene in which the band appeared. Unfortunately the band is neither mentioned nor credited in the program.

Between all of these varied activities, Johnson was preoccupied with the draft, for which he was a prime candidate. When Tom Davin asked him “What did you do during the World War I years?” Johnson replied frankly, “I tried to keep out of it mostly. I wasn’t a fighter like Willie [the Lion] Smith . . . In that war, you had to carry a draft card with you all the time. They used to have raids and if you didn’t have your card, it was the end. . . . I knew I had to get a war job or be drafted, so I got one in the Quartermaster Corps at 6th Avenue and 38th Street. The officers’ and soldiers’ uniforms were kept there. . . . After work, I would go out to the cabarets and play late then get up early to scuffle with the hand truck [at work]. I used to go into the toilet and get a little rest when I could. After a while, I was moved to an easier job . . . but I quit a few weeks after that. The war was over.” [TD]

The draft registration card for James P. Johnson shows his correct date of birth (1st February 1894) and city of birth “New Brun[s]wick, NJ.” His home address is 214 W. 64th Street, which is on the edge of the neighborhood known as “The Jungles” or “San Juan Hill,” vividly described by Edward Berlin in “Reflections and Research on Ragtime”. [RRR 58]  One of the places Johnson reports having played at in that period was “Drake’s Dancing Class” or “The Jungles Casino” on W. 62nd Street, just a couple of blocks away from his home. (This area is now just west of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.) To boil down his wide ranging musical activities to just a phrase, his occupation is given simply as “piano player.” Presumably a recent gig had been at Douglaston, Long Island, working for a Mr. Pearson, as he gives that name as his employer.

According to a “Record of Marriage” among Johnson’s papers at the Institute for Jazz Studies at Rutgers, Newark, James Price Johnson (age 23, born in New Brunswick, NJ) married Lilly Mae Hughes (age 28, born in Braddock, PA) on 6th August 1917. One might imagine that having stated that he was married with a dependent wife on the draft card registration in June may have motivated James and Lilly to tie the marital knot officially two months later. Johnson’s signature on the draft card is an excellent match with the familiar “James P. Johnson” autograph stencil on his QRS rolls from the early 1920s.
[RP 2]

© January 2008 Dr. Robert Pinsker


Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Joseph Francis Lamb

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

Joseph F. Lamb (1887-1960) is one of the Classic Ragtimers associated with Scott Joplin and is a great favorite with today’s ragtime audience. A good outline of his life and career can be found on Ted Tjaden’s website. [JFL]

Lamb’s draft registration card from 5th June 1917 confirms what we know of his life at that time. The home address in Brooklyn is correct; the house is no longer there, but the pleasant character of the neighborhood can be judged by the many single and two-family houses from the period that remain. Lamb was not drafted, probably because of his family. The wife indicated on the card was Henrietta Schultz, and the child was Joe, Jr. Henrietta succumbed to the flu in 1920, and Lamb remarried several years later, the second wife being Amelia Collins. (Amelia is the mother of Pat Lamb Conn, a beloved figure in today’s ragtime world and an attendee of many annual festivals.)

Music was Lamb’s avocation rather than his profession; his employment, as indicated on the card, was as a clerk at L. F. Dommerich & Co. in Manhattan, a large firm with diverse interests in fabric mills and mercantile banking. But music was Lamb’s passion, and he had a respectable output of music compositions. He had published more than 30 pieces by 1917, including 11 rags with Classic Ragtime publisher John Stark. He was to publish only one more rag with Stark, but continued composing almost to the end of his life, with more than a dozen pieces being published posthumously.
[EB 2]

© January 2007 Dr. Edward A. Berlin


Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Arthur Marshall

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Arthur Marshall (ca. 1882-1968) is remembered primarily as a student, friend, and collaborator of Scott Joplin. He was interviewed by ragtime researchers in the 1950s and 1960s and was an important source of information about Joplin and about ragtime’s early years. Preserved letters to him from John Stark give insights into the business methods of ragtime’s premiere ragtime publisher.

Marshall and Joplin became acquainted around 1894 when Joplin boarded with the Marshall family in Sedalia, MO. Marshall became Joplin’s student and in 1896 or 1897 attended Smith College in Sedalia at the same time Joplin attended. He was a charter member of Sedalia’s legendary Maple Leaf Club when it was founded in 1898, and around 1900 co-composed with Joplin Swipesy Cake Walk. Marshall’s other notable rag publications are Kinklets (1906), Lily Queen (1907; Joplin is credited as co-composer, but only loaned his name to help sales), Ham and ! (1908), The Peach (1908), and The Pippin (1908). Several previously unpublished rags were issued in various editions of They All Played Ragtime.

Marshall performed with McCabe’s Minstrels from 1901 to 1904; thereafter, until around 1917, he worked as a saloon pianist, mostly in St. Louis, but also briefly in Chicago. Marshall and Joplin had last seen each other in 1907, but corresponded regularly after that.

Marshall’s draft registration card, dated September 12, 1918, supports reports that he had left professional performing by that time. The birth date of Nov. 20, 1882 disagrees with other documents and statements. In the 1900 U.S. Census he claimed a birth year of 1880; in the 1910 U.S. Census it was 1881, which is what he also told Blesh and Janis almost forty years later.
[EB 1]

© November 2006 Dr. Edward A. Berlin


Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Charles Lucky Roberts

WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917

Luckey Roberts, as he was generally called, registered for the World War I draft as “Charles Lucky Roberts” in New York on 5th June 1917. His unusual middle name was also variously spelt as Luckeyeth , Luckeyth, Luckyeth and Luckyth. Whatever the correct version of this name, it is only an academic question today, for there was only one Luckey Roberts. He was a totally unique pianist, possessed of a prodigious technique and a powerful and individual style.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his birth date on the draft card was given as 7th August 1889, instead of the usual birth date of 7th August 1887. However, Luckey gave other birth years in other sources, 1891 on his World War II Draft Card, and 1893 to Nat Hentoff for his notes to Luckey’s Good Time Jazz album. The 1930 U.S. Census (1st April) supports the 1889 date, but the entry in the Social Security Death Index shows 1893. It is unlikely that any birth records exist for him.

Which date is correct is anybody’s guess, but perhaps we should accept the guidance of Eubie Blake, Luckey’s best friend, about the factual inconsistencies he gave out:

“Luckey was the biggest liar I’ve ever known, and he’d cheat at anything. He had tear-duct trouble and he could cry anytime he wanted to. He used to go over to a rough white section in Baltimore and play what we called lemon pool. He was a good pool player — a shark — but he’d pretend he couldn’t play . . .” [TIR 113]

Although only 4 feet 10 inches tall, Luckey had very large hands which could stretch fourteen notes on the piano, although Johnny Guarnieri claimed he could stretch two octaves. Some people said that he told them that he had the webs between his fingers surgically cut so he could increase his stretch, but this may just simply be another of his exaggerations.

Luckey was the first of the stride pianists to have his work published with simplified arrangements of Junk Man Rag and Pork and Beans in 1913, and he was the acknowledged leader of the New York school for many years. He wrote some thirteen musical productions from 1917 to about 1942 but none were successful, although they contained some fine music. Success did come with his 1941 song Moonlight Cocktail that Glenn Miller put on the Billboard charts for nineteen weeks in 1942.

Providing a number of orchestras for the functions of East Coast high society from the early 1920s to 1940 was Luckey’s path to financial success. He had as many as four orchestras at a time, which employed such legendary pianists as his boyhood friend, Abba Labba (Richard McLean), and Paul Seminole, Donald Lambert’s onetime musical partner.

Luckey had a large following in New York, and his playing was greatly admired by such diverse pianists as Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, Willie “The Lion” Smith, Duke Ellington, Claude Hopkins, Donald Lambert, Johnny Guarnieri, Erroll Garner and Red Garland. His recording career spanned the years 1916 to 1958, but his output was meagre. The Columbia records from 1916 were never issued, and no test pressings are known to exist. He recorded a few piano rolls for Vocalstyle, issued in 1919, and some for Q.R.S., issued in 1923, as well as accompaniments for the Two Black Crows (George Moran and Charles Mack) in 1927.

His reputation today relies on the recordings he made for Circle in 1946 (reissued on Solo Art SACD-10) and Good Time Jazz in 1958 (reissued by Fantasy on GTJ S10035 with the superb original photograph by the renowned Lee Friedlander on the cover). There is also the 1958 Period album with Garvin Bushell and a rhythm section (Period PRST1929, reissued in the UK in 1999 by Maps on ETDCD 153) with some fine moments, very well recorded.

Luckey was married to the vaudeville singer, Lena Sanford (1885-1958), for over forty years. He suffered an incapacitating stroke in the year of her death, and died in New York on 5th February 1968.
[PH 16]

© May 2007 Peter Hanley


Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Charles Theodore Straight

WWI Draft Registration Card
31st May 1917

Charles “Charley” Theodore Straight was born on January, 16, 1891 in Chicago, Illinois. Following his graduation from high school in 1909, Charley, a first-class pianist, began a 31-year career as accompanist, performer, composer, and bandleader. His first professional job was with Eugene “Gene” Greene (1877-1930), the vaudeville artist known as “The Ragtime King.” Their most popular number was “King of the Bungaloos.” First recorded for Columbia on February 17, 1911, it included nonsense syllables, perhaps the first example of scatting on record. [PARP]

In 1912-1913, Greene and Straight toured England where they played a command performance for the King and Queen, and recorded 65 sides for Pathe. In 1913 they had great success in Australia where they performed for the Lord Mayor of Sydney. [SE] In a review of their appearance at the Tivoli Theatre in Melbourne in November 1913, it is written “. . . not a little of the success of the turn was due to the piano accompaniments of Charley Straight.” [PAL] In 1914-1916 Straight was based in New York and published songs and rags with M. Witmark and Sons and with Jerome H. Remick and Company. As his reputation grew, Straight moved back to Chicago. First, he made piano rolls for Rolla Artis, a subsidiary of the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, under the name of Billie/Billy King. In 1917, he went to work for the “Imperial Player Roll Company” in Chicago as performer, arranger, and musical director. He recorded numerous piano rolls of novelty rags for Imperial and for the rival company Q.R.S. [TAR]

On May 31, 1917, Charles Theodore Straight registered for the draft. As seen on the card, when asked “Do you claim exemption from the draft?” Straight responded, “Yes, only on acct of wife and baby.” His wife, Sadie, was one year younger than Charley and the baby, Virginia, was about two years old. Another daughter, June was born in 1918. [USC] Straight gives “Waterson, Berlin and Snyder of 81 Randolph Street” as his employer. Waterson, Berlin and Snyder was a publishing company created in 1911 in New York when Henry Waterson and Ted Snyder (the composer of “The Sheik of Araby” and other hits) decided to take Irving Berlin as a partner when he composed his mega-hit “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”. From May 1914 on, the company’s headquarters were in New York City at 224 West Forty-seventh St, in the Strand Theater Building. The company also had a subsidiary office in Chicago, first at 43 Monroe St, and then at 81 Randolph St. Evidently, before he joined the “Imperial Player Roll Company”, Straight worked for a time with Waterson, Berlin and Snyder. This information was not known prior to the discovery of his draft registration card.

In 1919, Straight hired Roy Bargy as editor of popular songs for the production of piano rolls as well as composer of novelty/rag songs for the Imperial Company. At the urging of Charley, Bargy wrote his “Piano Syncopations.”
[TTT] The same year, the “Imperial Three,” a trio consisting of Paul Biese on violin and tenor saxophone, and Roy Bargy and Charley Straight on piano made a test recording on Victor and two sides on Emerson. [ADBD] Straight left the Imperial Roll Company in 1922 to lead a band at the Rendezvous Café where he stayed for about three years. [TTT]

The Charley Straight Orchestra recorded 14 sides for Paramount from June to December 1923, and 34 sides for Brunswick from March 1926 to August 1928. [ADBD] During 1926, the band travelled for the Music Corporation of America (MCA) circuit of Midwest venues and had an engagement at the Muehlbach Hotel in Kansas City. In September 1926, Straight opened at the Midnight Frolics in Chicago, a gala event that included Sophie Tucker. The Midnight Frolics was raided and closed by federal agents in February 1928. It re-opened in the spring of 1928, again with show and dance music provided by Straight. The Charley Straight band appeared at the Rainbo Room in November 1929. The Rainbo Room, which could accommodate 2,000 diners, had opened in 1922 in the location of the old Rainbo Garden where Isham Jones and His Orchestra had appeared in 1918-1920. [TTT] In spite of the great depression and changing musical tastes, Straight managed to work as a musician in the 1930s, playing occasional dates on weekends. His band was “one of the favorite orchestras at Chicago’s Century of Progress in 1933-34.” [NYT] In 1937, he appeared in various venues as “Charley Straight and his Great WGN & CBS Orchestra.”

In 1940, Charley Straight took a temporary job as a water sampler with the Metropolitan Sanitary District (Chicago). Tragically, as he was working over a manhole on the evening of September 22, 1940, he was struck and killed by a passing car.
[SE]  [RPY]

Charley Straight’s musical legacy consists of dozens of compositions, approximately one hundred recordings, and dozens of piano rolls. His piano compositions are still performed, and his records, some of which have been re-issued on CD, [CR] are played on radio programs about 1920s music. Eighteen of his piano rolls have been re-issued. [SFR] Charley Straight must be viewed, in part, as a novelty rag composer/arranger/performer, one of several pianists in the late 1910s and early 1920s who “took ragtime in its abstract essence as piano-roll music and expanded it. Developing a whole system of conventions, often based on the harmonic concepts of the Impressionists, they produced a unique style and body of music that became at least as fully realized as the classic rag.” [TIR] He has also been viewed as “an important figure in the metamorphosis from ragtime to jazz,” [CR] and as the leader of one of the best dance bands in Chicago in the 1920s. “They were an elite outfit, playing the finest hotels and clubs.” [TAR] In addition, Charley Straight has the distinction of having had the legendary cornetist Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke [BML] in his Rendezvous Café orchestra during the spring of 1925. [AH 1]

© December 2006 Prof. Albert Haim


Click to enlarge front of WWI Draft Registration Card                             Click to enlarge back of WWI Draft Registration Card

Percy Wenrich

WWI Draft Registration Card
12th September 1918

Percy Wenrich was a prolific composer of both Classic Ragtime and ragtime songs and became one of the most successful songwriters of early Tin Pan Alley. He was born in Joplin, Missouri on January 23, 1880 and died at the age of 72 in New York on March 17, 1952. [RAR] Percy’s father was the postmaster in Joplin from 1896 until the early 1900s and even wrote campaign songs for local office seekers. [TAR]

Percy soaked up the popular music of the day when as an underage lad he was admitted to the infamous House of Lords “sporting house” in Joplin, [TIR] and played piano at the nearby pavilion at Lakeside park, where ragtime composer James Scott of Carthage was likely to have heard him. [RHCM]  He moved to Chicago in 1901, where the McKinley publishing firm hired him to write teaching pieces for $5 each. Forster Music published two of his rags in 1906.

He firmly established himself as a commercial songwriter and vaudeville performer with his singer wife, Dolly Connolly in Chicago and later in New York,
[TAOR] going on to become one of the most prolific songwriters of the early 20th Century. He always claimed the title “The Joplin Kid” was a reference to his home town, but many took it to be a reference to Scott Joplin, who was also perceived to be from Missouri because his ragtime output began while he lived there. [TAR]

In 1951 his home town honored him with a citywide festival centered on the release of “On Moonlight Bay”, a Doris Day film that featured his songs. Wenrich was too ill to come to Joplin to attend (he died the following year), but sent a telegram. [TAR]

He is credited with some 21 Rags, including: Ashy Africa (1903), Peaches and Cream Rag (1905), Made In Germany (1906) [as Karl Schmidt], Noodles (1906), Chestnuts (1906), The Smiler (1907), Dixie Darlings (1907), Crab Apples (1908), Persian Lamb Rag (1908) and Ragtime Chimes (1911).

Wenrich is best known for his popular songs, which include: Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet (1909), Silver Bell (1910), Golden Deer (1911), Red Rose Rag (1911), Moonlight Bay (1912) and When You Wore A Tulip (1914).
  [WR 1]

© February 2007 William Rowland

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