Rudiments of Ragtime Installment 12: May Aufderheide (1888-1972)

May Aufderheide
May Aufderheide

Not all of the original classic ragtime composers were men. Among the talented women, May Aufderheide has likely been the most popular. May wrote seven ragtime pieces in all. Her first, “Dusty Rag,” (1908) and “Thriller,” (1909) became her most popular compositions and her best sellers.

May Frances Aufderheide was born in Indianapolis and lived most of her life in Indiana. She was from a wealthy and musical family and learned piano from her aunt as a teenager. As a young woman she toured Europe with her family, learning of the great classical composers, but she maintained her ragtime interest on her return.

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May married Thomas Kaufman in 1908 and after the success of her early ragtime pieces, her father formed J.H. Aufderheide & Company in order to publish her rags. May’s last ragtime piece was “Novelty Rag” (1911). Lyrics were added to two of her compositions later, but they did not do well.

Health and family problems seemed to impact the rest of her life. The Kaufmans moved to California in the mid-1970s. She was in a wheelchair due to arthritis after the mid-1950s and she died in Pasadena, California, at the age of 84 after suffering several strokes. Her ragtime compositions have remained popular since the ragtime revival of the 1970s and the rise of interest in women composers.

Reference: Edwards, Bill; “Rag Piano” Ragtime Composers; May Aufderheide;


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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