An exuberant and decidedly American style of music, ragtime introduced the world to exciting new rhythms. It changed the dance scene, influenced early jazz, and broke through the color barrier of early 20th-century music.
Ragtime’s heyday may have been in the 1920s, but it has made numerous comebacks – and we’re still enjoying it today. Here in Maryland we had our very own ragtime great in Eubie Blake, who was born in Baltimore in the late 1800s.
The story goes that when he was just four or five years only, the precocious youngster wandered into a music store while shopping with his mother. He climbed right onto an organ bench and began entertaining himself. History doesn’t tell us what he attempted to play, but when Blake’s mother found him, the store manager praised his “sublime, God-given talent.” Young Eubie’s musical journey had begun.
He got music lessons from a neighbor who was a church organist, but he had other influences…such as his experience playing in Baltimore bordello at age 15 (mom and dad were none the wiser). He went on to play at hotels and clubs, on the medicine show circuit, in vaudeville, and even briefly for a Quaker doctor. Later in life Blake appeared frequently on The Tonight Show and Merv Griffin and was featured by leading conductors such as Leonard Bernstein.
Highly respected as both a composer and performer, by 1975 he had been awarded several honorary doctorates. Blake continued to play and record music until his death in 1983. Check out a compilation of his performances here.