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.
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.