In 1987, Charles H. Templeton, a 1949 graduate of Mississippi State University, donated his collection of 200 antique music players dating from about 1895 to 1930, 22,000 pieces of sheet music and 15,000 records to his alma mater. The collection, which could be said to represent the business of music, is housed in several rooms on the fourth floor of Mitchell Memorial Library on the Starkville campus. I had the opportunity to see and be shown the collection last March when I attended the Charles Templeton Ragtime and Jazz Festival for the first time.
I was introduced by Jeff Barnhart, the festival’s music director, to Charlie’s son, Charles, Jr. (Chip). My curiosity about how the collection came about led me to sit down with Chip for almost an hour to get the backstory. I wanted to tell you readers what you will not find about the collection on MSU’s website.
If you go there, be aware that you will not see the entire collection. Maybe someday the museum will be expanded in order to display everything. But what is viewable is identified as accurately as possible, and most, if not all, the musical instruments are operable. Now, in Chip’s words….
“My father was a very interesting person. He had a tough time growing up with polio, but he never used it as a crutch. He never accepted the idea that ‘you can’t do something.’ He was a businessman here in town. He was very ambitious; he started several businesses—automobile dealerships, a hotel franchise, and other things. One of his enterprises was Tempwood V Records. For about ten years he had about a dozen artists that he helped get recorded. The musicians were local but the records were made in Nashville, as he knew people who owned studios there. He was trying to make rock-and-roll hit records. It was mostly what we’d call ‘rockabilly’ today. He thought it would be fun to see if he could recapture how the music business really started, from the first phonographs. He bought and sold quantities of artifacts of various types. But he also had his ‘keepers’ that eventually wound up at MSU. My wife, Connie, and I have added to them over the years.
“The collection was first housed in a Victorian clapboard house on campus that was part of the Music Department. It was a home that the University owned. When some budget cuts threatened the collection’s existence, the library said ‘this really belongs at the library.’ There were some unfinished spaces in the library and the collection was put there. They had climate controls to protect it. Our family contributed funds to make the museum you see today a reality. We called David Jasen, one of Dad’s friends, who is probably the most authoritative person on the history of ragtime and 20th century music. He’s written dozens of books on this topic. He came down from New York City, and among his suggestions for outreach was creating this festival. He was the artistic director for the first 7 or 8 years, and he suggested that Jeff Barnhart take it over. Jeff’s been the director ever since.”
How did you get involved?
“Early on I had no interest in Dad’s collection. I wasn’t hostile toward it, just indifferent. After he died in 2000, I found an odd-shaped cardboard box in his house. It contained about 1500 pieces of sheet music. I didn’t initially have any attraction to it, but as I went through it I realized what it meant to Dad. He liked the covers and the story about the country they told. With Dave Jasen’s help, I became a collector, too. As I learned more about the music, I found out what I wanted. If it wasn’t in the collection, I set out to find it. Dad envisioned himself years ago as trying to be what Col. Tom Parker was to Elvis Presley. That led to Tempwood V Records. In Dad’s mind, America’s music originated in small towns, not in the big cities. He wanted to connect the people who wrote or played their own music to record producers who could put them on the map.
“We wanted the museum not to be about the Templetons. In fact, we encouraged the library not to put our name on it. We wanted to be the capital of where this kind of music can live. I have no knowledge of whether Dad ever met Janice Cleary, but I’d like to think they knew each other through collecting. Other sheet music collectors like Trebor Tichenor and Ragtime Bob Darch knew her.” [BH: Janice’s sheet music collection was donated to the museum prior to the 2022 Templeton Festival. It was featured in this paper a few months prior to that.]
Did your mother have a role in your father’s collecting?
“No, they were complete opposites. She was just a laid-back supportive person. She never objected to his trips to buy collections around the country even though she didn’t know anything about what he was buying. He’d buy the contents of an entire estate just to get the items he wanted. Then he’d sell or give away the rest. He had a person who restored the instruments he’d buy who could find the parts that were needed.
Let’s talk a little about the festival that I won’t be covering in my report for the paper. Where do you see it going? What plans do you have for its future?
“I’m going to cop out a little here. We don’t have a specific plan yet for next year. We like the format we have now. This was originally a three-day festival until we realized that was too much. Now it’s two days with fewer performers. We try to treat our performers like rock stars. We were happy to get a ‘live’ festival going again after we had to go virtual last year.”
What’s the distribution between local and out-of-town attendees?
“We’ve had people from just about every state, but probably 80 percent are within 50 miles. The attendance is growing. We hope to get to the point where we need a bigger facility. We do something that I don’t think any other festival does. We produce a one-hour program in a high-quality format that’s broadcast on Mississippi Public Television, plus a CD sampler of the concerts. Permission from the artists is obtained in the contract they sign with us, so we don’t have an issue with copyrights. We also do some local outreach with local schools the day before the festival starts with several of our artists. So we have great support from the community.”
I think that’s a good place to end. Thanks very much, Chip.
Before I submitted this piece I obtained from Chip some information about the 2023 festival. The dates are March 23-25 at MSU. The performers are Jeff Barnhart (the artistic director), clarinetist Dave Bennett, pianist Taslimah Bey, drummer Hal Smith, and pianist, artist, and composer Scott Kirby. There will also be the inaugural installment of the Business of Music symposium.
Scott, the only one of the four whom I’ve not seen, has imposing ragtime credentials. He is a former music director of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival, among other accolades.
Editor’s note: Ragtime scholar David Jasen, mentioned in the above interview, died November 2 at the age of 84.