This uniquely American musical genre, based upon African American rhythms and styles rendered initially by Black banjoists and pianists, flourished throughout the United States from the late 1890s to the end of World War I. During this period, Indianapolis contributed several distinguished ragtime composers and performers. Many were African Americans who performed along Indiana Avenue, although little of their music was published. 

Sheet music for "Trouble Rag," published ca. 1908
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

Most published ragtime composers were middle-class whites, including numerous young women. Among Indianapolis composers were May Aufderheide, who wrote several popular piano rags between 1908 and 1913: “Dusty Rag,” “Thriller Rag,” and “The Richmond Rag.” Sophus Jergensen lived in Indianapolis in the early 1900s and composed “Hoosier Rag” and “Mingle Your Eye-Brows with Mine.” Joseph F. Cohen owned a music publishing company in the city and composed “Dancing at the Georgia Jubilee,” “Golden Glow,” and “Love Dreams.” Pianist Julia Lee Niebergall (1886-1968) composed “Horseshoe Rag” and “Red Rambler Rag,” taught music at Manual High School, and accompanied silent movies and dance classes.

Abe Olman came from Cincinnati in 1908 and managed the L. S. Ayres and Company sheet music department for four years before moving to New York to become a music publisher. While in Indianapolis, he composed “Honeymoon Rag,” “Candlestick Rag,” “Seaweeds Rag,” “Halloween Rag,” and “Egyptia.” Paul Pratt (1890-1948) managed the John H. Aufderheide music publishing firm and composed “Vanity Rag,” “Colonial Glide,” and “Walhalla.”

Piano music cover of Richmond Rag, composed by May Aufderheide, 1908
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

J(oseph) Russel Robinson (1892-1963) began playing piano in Indianapolis movie theaters around 1905. After leaving town in 1908, he composed several ragtime pieces including “Sapho Rag” and “Dynamite Rag.” From 1919 to 1921, he toured and recorded with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and composed several popular and jazz hits including “Margie,” “Singin’ the Blues,” and “Palesteena.”

African American pianist Russell Smith used Indianapolis as a home base beginning in the 1910s and composed “That Demon Rag” and “The Microbe Rag.” Cecil Duane Crabb came to Indianapolis in 1908 and composed “Fluffy Ruffles,” “Orinoco,” and, with Will B. Morrison, “Trouble Rag” and “Klassicle Rag.” Seventeen-year-old Black pianist Jesse Crump arrived in Indianapolis from Dallas in 1923 and performed as a pianist at the Golden West Cafe on Indiana Avenue, recording his only known ragtime composition, “Mr. Crump Rag,” at Gennett Records later that year. Crump composed many songs for blues singers and recorded with Ida Cox on Paramount Records and Nina Reeves on Gennett.

Indianapolis sheet music publishers specializing in ragtime included Warner C. Williams, John H. Aufderheide, Isadore Seidel, Abby Music Publishing, Carlin & Lennox, and Duane Crabb.

Revised February 2021

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