Earlier Festivals in Sedalia
As I am writing this, the 37th Annual Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, is well under way and by all Internet accounts it is off to a great start. Health issues are keeping my wife and I home this year but we are there in spirit. However, I haven’t decided to write about this year’s festival, or even the 1974 inaugural event in which I was involved. Rather I’ve decided to blow the dust off some old Sedalia Ragtime Archive documents that trace two earlier efforts to commemorate Sedalia’s role in the history of American music.
Sedalia traces its formal beginning to 1860 and one hundred years later local leaders decided to celebrate the city’s centennial by recognizing its most famous former resident, Scott Joplin, in two memorial concerts a year apart. The background to these concerts is fascinating but a lot more dust will have to be blown away to tell about all that another time.
The two Sedalia Scott Joplin Memorial Concerts in 1959 and 1960 were inspired by Ragtime Bob Darch (among others) and led by the Scott Joplin Memorial Foundation. The Foundation was established by the Chamber in September 1959 with Harlan Snow and Jake Siragusa as co-chairs. Behind the effort was the Chamber of Commerce and it’s energetic president Bill Hopkins.
As “Ragtime Bob” was stirring up interest, his promotion of Sedalia was validated as people began coming to town looking for information on Joplin and his music. One such couple, John and Ann Vanderlee, would literally become ambassadors for the city and its ragtime heritage. John was a pianist and Ann, a historian. Everywhere they went, they publicized Sedalia. (I met the Vanderlees in Texarkana when Jerry Adkins featured them in the city’s Centennial Concert in 1973. They were far better promoters of Sedalia than I was while working at the Chamber of Commerce!)
Harlan Snow was a consummate newsman and went after the Foundation projects with great enthusiasm. His flair for publicity paid off in widespread awareness of Sedalia’s ragtime activities. “Papa Jake” Siragusa also had a “sugar high” personality that would keep him active in ragtime promotions for most of his long life. That’s what a regular diet of his famous Papa Jake donuts and coffee could do.
The first concert was November 23, 1959 at the all-Black Hubbard High School followed by a similar program at the all-White Smith-Cotton High School the following night. At these concerts, Darch had Arthur Marshall, Joplin’s student and collaborator and Tom Ireland (a Queen City Concert Band member with Joplin) on stage. A headcount at both concerts revealed 6,000 had been in attendance.
During the 1959 concerts, Darch had hinted at the possibility of a national TV program during Sedalia’s centennial celebration. In January1960 the local Sedalia Democrat announced the possibility formally and went into great detail about negotiations with Stan Zukor, a New York producer. The following month it was declared a certainty and the excitement mounted at news that Burl Ives would narrate the film.
Well, there was a TV series in November 1960 on NBC, but other than a few mentions of Sedalia by the host Hoagy Carmichael, there was no centennial spectacular. It wouldn’t be the last time Sedalia was passed over after promises of film notoriety.
However, Sedalians were treated to another Bob Darch “Spectacular” concert with Arthur Marshall and Tom Ireland as guests again in October 1960. This concert originally had the potential to be even more noteworthy as Joseph Lamb was also scheduled to be present. However, to Sedalia’s great misfortune, Joe died in September just a few weeks before the concert.
Before disbanding a year later, the Foundation did accomplish one more important feat. They raised the funds for a permanent memorial to Scott Joplin, John Stark, and the Maple Leaf Club to be erected near the site of the original Club’s building. The ground breaking for the monument featured centennial favorites actor Jack Oakie, a Sedalia native son; Bob Darch; and Arthur Marshall.
Unfortunately, the original Maple Leaf Club building had been recently leveled in 1958 as part of a city clearance program to add parking lots for downtown merchants. Nevertheless, though most of Sedalia’s ragtime landmarks are gone, the tradition of commemorating Scott Joplin’s work there up to the present is memorialized in events like the 1959 and 1960 Centennial Concerts.
Larry Melton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or get the Print Edition with Online Access. To get the print edition of The Syncopated Times use this Paypal link. After you pay you will be issued a coupon for free online access.