Percy Franks and Jess Williams

It has been great fun to recall old memories of the first 1974 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia. This month I remember two gentlemen from the original ragtime era. Percy Franks 1893-1976 Billed as “The Last of the Ragtime Kids,” Percy Franks came to the festival from his home in Kansas City. He began as a young performer working with Fred Allen, Fred Astaire, Sophie Tucker, and Blossom Seeley on the Pantages Vaudeville Circuit. Percy played the steam calliope and his primary duties included performing in the street parades to drum up an audience for the shows. The circuit began in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and included many of Alexander Pantages’ 84 theaters across the continent. Percy worked for the P. Lorillard Co. as a salesman for 39 years. Then, in retirement he returned to entertainment. On his retirement he moved to his home in Kansas City and returned to performing doing primarily charity work. He toured the midwest with his show, “Fun at the Piano.” One of his popular numbers was to play “Yankee Doodle” on a piano with one hand and “Dixie” on another piano with the other hand. Through the 1960s he played an annual gig at the Broadmoor International Center in Colorado Springs. He also made regular appearances in Joplin, Missouri, at Mickey Mantle’s Holiday Inn. P
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Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at [email protected].

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