This month, I fear I will be rambling even more than usual. So many things rattle around in my head these days, so I’ll just gather some of this gray matter into an article.
“What have you done for us, recently?” is an all too common question often directed at my generation. That is, if the question is posed at all. As a whole we are generally prone to forget the contributions our elder generation has made. That’s why I have been so eager to promote local history projects and to encourage institutions and organizations to research their heritage so that the work of earlier generations can be celebrated.
As the passing months take me closer and closer to a nursing home, I realize I am still in my own home because of the enormous support and encouragement of friends and family. So, I’m not speaking for myself now, but rather for the many whose contributions have been forgotten. I especially have performers and musicians in mind.
I offer some anonymous words that hopefully make my point:
A young man asked an elder,
“What have you done for me today?”
“I’m slaving away at this pile of rock,
while you just sit there wasting away.”
The elder stirred, and reminded the youth,
squinting over his aged shoulder,
“When I was young, your pile of rock
was a veritable mountain of boulders!
“May your children labor only over pebbles
that come from these rocks you shatter,
so your grandchildren, in their distant lives,
will have only sand to scatter.
However, rather than provide examples of unappreciated lives, let me point out that many seniors in the jazz and ragtime communities are indeed recognized for their contributions, no matter how long ago they may have been famous. The Syncopated Times, from the beginning, has reminded us of those who have recently died in the “Final Chorus” column. I’m especially grateful to learn about earlier achievements and careers of which I am unaware.
In the September 2017 issue of The Syncopated Times, Andy Senior wrote admiringly of publishers who preceded him, especially Leslie Johnson and her work on The Mississippi Rag. That kind of awareness and acknowledgment is often absent today and worthy as previous work may have been, we often tend to behave as if what we are doing, had no past. Andy humbly wrote of Leslie’s great publication and of her struggles to continue publishing right to her untimely death. Thus, we were reminded The Syncopated Times has grown from great efforts like Leslie’s.
And that leads me to another thought. (I mentioned that I might ramble.)
I am thinking of the death in November of a great musician and showman, Johnny Maddox. Now Johnny was fortunate to have many friends and family but as he aged and his health declined, he was sometimes forgotten by the ragtime community. One admirer who stayed close to Johnny was Adam Swanson. Adam first met Johnny in 2004 and treasured their friendship until Maddox died this November. Johnny expressed his great appreciation for Adam many times and in particular in 2012 when he inscribed a photograph to Adam as his “No. 1 Buddy.”
Adam wrote me recently that Johnny taught him “a love of many kinds of music as long as melody was the focus of the style—including opera arias, and 1920s and ’30s popular song in particular.” Adam went on to write, “Johnny’s personal stories about working with so many of the pioneer ragtime composers, vaudevillians, and old-time movie stars in their later years (i.e., the 1950s and ’60s) fascinated me.” Adam hopes to someday recount the showman’s career and Adam’s own time with Johnny in a book for he feels the contribution Maddox made has been neglected by the ragtime community in general. I discovered Adam was the only musician at Johnny’s funeral on December 3, 2018. Adam also reminded me that Johnny Maddox is the only ragtime musician with a star on Hollywood Boulevard.
I also commend the various organizations that have recognized lifetime achievement, sometimes long after the recipients have been popular or well known in a field. I was privileged to be recognized in 1986 as Sedalia’s first Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival Producer. The Sedalia Ragtime Festival Foundation has had a Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed annually on 38 people since 1989. The list of these recipients is a who’s who of individuals who have made significant contributions to ragtime:
2018 – Jerry & Mary Grace Lanese
2017 – Lucille Salerno
2016 – Bill Edwards
2015 – Janice Clear*
2014 – Tex Wyndham*
2013 – Johnny Maddox*
2012 – Patricia Lamb Conn*
2011 – Helen & David “Smiley” Wallace*
2010 – Sue Keller*
2009 – Jim Radloff*
2008 – Richard Berry*
2007 – (Scott Joplin Festival Founders)* Dorothy Kitchen, Kathryn Rayford,
Jake Siragusa, and Harlan Snow*
2006 – David Reffkin*
2005 – Jack Rummel*
2004 – Nora Hulse
2003 – Michael Schwimmer*
2002 – St. Louis Ragtimers*
2000 – Dr. Edward Berlin*
1999 – Jeanene Wright*
1998 – John Arpin*
1997 – Terry Waldo*
1996 – Jean & Paul Huling*
1995 – David Jasen*1994 – Bob Darch*
1993 – Dick Hyman*
1992 – Trebor Tichenor*
1991 – Richard Zimmerman*
1990 – Wally Rose*
1989 – Max Morath
So just a reminder, if one is needed, not to neglect the contributions of the multitude of elders who are no longer in the spotlight. We still have pioneers for certain, but for the most part, personal accomplishment today has been enabled by the many who have gone before us.