Sadly, Steve Radeck informs us that “Professor” Don Burns has died at the age of 81. Don was a familiar ragtime entertainer in western New York state for many years. Born in Buffalo his home was in Grand Island, where he was based, and he was always a popular performer at local venues and festivals. He went into ragtime performance after meeting Bob Darch in Florida in 1959 and they frequently met on the road.
Bob also introduced Don to the Toronto ragtime group, and he played there frequently. His familiar self-taught ragtime piano was popular as was his always-lively banter. Don was an entertainer and he acted the part dressing in arm-garters, derby hat, and colorful vest.
Darch once quoted Don as saying, “If you can outplay them, out-dress them.” Don’s book Piano People: Upright Grand – Downright is a compendium of his wit and humor. Wayne Pauli quoted Don as saying, “Life is very fleeting, you should do what you want to do.” And for five decades “Professor” Don Burns played ragtime.
Don Burns was President of Queen City Jass Society.
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]