A Blind Ragtimer?

Many of you have heard of blind pianists like Ray Charles, George Shearing, Ronnie Milsap and Art Tatum but did you know there was a blind ragtime composer?

Charles Hunter (1876-1906) was an American composer of ragtime music who was born almost totally blind.
He attended the School for the Blind in Nashville, Tennessee, where he learned the piano tuner’s trade. He went to work at the Jesse French Piano Company in Nashville.

Absorbing the folk strains of Nashville, he published his first rag, "Tickled to Death," in 1899, which became a hit. This was followed 1900 by "A Tennessee Tantilizer," and in 1901 by "Possum and Taters," "Cotton Bolls," and "Queen of Love."

Of these fine rags, my favourite is the "Possum and Taters". It is quite different than a Scott Joplin rag in that it relies more on melody than rhythm.

Possum and Taters Rag

I find the prominent single note melody that Hunter uses similar in style to that of Earl Hines "trumpet-style" piano-playing made famous in 1928.

The rag should be played with a clear statement of melody. The left hand should be present but slightly understated so as to not detract from the melody. Adding rubato, especially between strains, will give the piece a lilting character like a classical romantic piece. The piece sounds easier than it is to play properly, however, if you are a beginning ragtimer, this is a good introduction.

Charles Hunter lived only 30 years and produced a handful of rags, but the Possum and Taters will be remembered as a delicate piece of folk ragtime, a pleasure to play and hear.

Listen to Possum and Taters

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5 Responses

  1. Cool. How about a deaf ragtime piano player?

    see my link

    🙂

  2. Very cool site. Black and White rag is an excellent choice! Lots of finger action and very catchy strains. Good luck with your playing. I’ll check in again soon.
    Ross

  3. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Relatively.

  4. Great article!

    There were several great blind ragtime composers and performers. Some never published or recorded anything, however two others that come to mind are
    John William ‘Blind’ Boone, and Blind Leroy Garnett.

    Blind Boone should be familiar to you, but Google him if he’s not. His piano rolls are available as recuts from BluesTone Music Rolls if you have a player piano. Some of them have been transcribed into sheet music, in addition to his already-published pieces.

    Leroy Garnett was from New Orleans, and other than that very little is known about him, but he recorded something like 8 records in Chicago in 1929, 6 of them accompaniments to singers, and 2 of them solos (“Louisiana Glide” and “Chain ’em Down”).

    All are fantastic recordings and Garnett was a masterful pianist with a wonderful ear for sequences, interesting piano patterns, and just damn fine piano playing! There is a CD on Document Records collecting all his recordings together with those of several other little-known but great pianists. This CD is called “Boogie Woogie & Barrelhouse Piano Vol 2 1928 – 1930”:

    http://www.document-records.com/fulldetails.asp?ProdID=DOCD-5103

    http://www.amazon.com/Boogie-Woogie-Barrelhouse-Piano-1928-1930/dp/B000S531QW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1248671704&sr=8-1

    “Chain ’em Down” is one of the hottest boogie-woogie and barrelhouse performances I’ve ever heard! Just when you think he’s going to run out of ideas he comes up with something new, and vocalist James Wiggins is also great in his role as a narrator and music enthusiast here, offering some great exclamations to go along with the music!

    “Louisiana Glide” is a rag, but a barrelhouse style rag with a terrific rocking bass loaded with fifths, giving a strong “power chord” foundation to this driving tune! Garnett’s lacy New Orleans ragtime patterns in the right hand add just the right amount of delicacy and melody to make this an extremely well-balanced rag and a very fine example of barrelhouse piano at its best!

    This latter tune has been transcribed into sheet music by Claude Bolling and is available in the folio “Original Boogie Woogie”. Bolling’s own recording of the tune is OK but he doesn’t capture the proper easy-rolling swing that Garnett has on his original recording.

    http://www.di-arezzo.co.uk/detail_notice.php?no_article=CARSH00277

    http://www.free-scores.com/boutique/boutique-uk-frame-eur.php?clef=70809

    http://www.boosey.com/shop/prod/Bolling-Claude-Original-Boogie-Woogie/658698

    http://www.note4piano.com/EN/catalog.php?action=showitem&ve=scores&numart=CARI0018

  5. Thanks Andrew, you have done your homework! I’ll check out those links for sure. I appreciate your interest and feedback!!

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