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Ragtime Music in Canada


Chapter 5: The Ragtime Revival in Canada


By Ted Tjaden

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Canada played an important role with the revival of ragtime in the 1960's primarily through the efforts of people like Ragtime Bob Darch (resident in Toronto as a performer at Club 76), John Arpin, and The Canadian Ragtime Society. At around the same time, with the publication of They All Played Ragtime (Blesh and Janis 1966), ragtime music was well on its way to not only being revived but thoroughly reinvigorated (for more on ragtime revival in the United States, see John Edward Hasse, Rolex Replica "Rudi Blesh and the Ragtime Revivalists" (Hasse 1985:178) and Bill Edwards, "An Essay on the Core of the First Ragtime Revival"). For many baby boomers, however, myself included, ragtime awareness came later with the ragtime soundtrack to the movie The Sting in 1973. In this section, I briefly review the ragtime revival in Canada starting first with the important role played by The Ragtime Society and its newsletter, The Ragtimer (1962-1985), followed by brief profiles of a number of influential Canadian (and American) ragtime enthusiasts who have played important roles with the revival of ragtime in Canada.

5.1)   The Ragtime Society and The Ragtimer
5.2)   John Arpin
5.3)   Mimi Blais
5.4)   Eubie Blake
5.5)   "Ragtime Bob" Darch
5.6)   Lou Hooper
5.7)   Austin Kitchen
5.8)   David Lee

5.1)   The Ragtime Society and The Ragtimer  [top]

Ragtime music in Canada never really died out among its main enthusiasts and it could be argued that Canada played an integral role in reviving ragtime music in the late 1950s. At that time (in 1959), Ragtime Bob Darch arrived in Toronto with his Cornish Upright Grand Five Pedal Saloon Piano and was a regular performer at Club 76 on St Clair St West in Toronto, Ontario. Darch was instrumental in raising funds to arrange for Joseph Lamb to come to Toronto that year for a tribute and a performance: The October 3, 1959, edition of the Globe & Mail (page 16) describes Darch's fundraising to bring Joseph Lamb and his wife to Toronto, mentioning a promise of Club 76 to pay into a United Appeal Fund $2 for every $1 collected. Important ragtime performers, including Eubie Blake, Max Morath and Johhny Maddox, all performed at some point at Club 76. An ad for Club 76 in the January 30, 1961, Globe & Mail advertised that Max Morath was now in his 3rd week at the club and that Johhny (Crazy Otto) Maddox would be coming soon!

It is in this context that the Ragtime Society had its first formal meeting on January 19, 1962, in Toronto, Ontario, among a number of steadfast ragtime enthusiasts (note: the information in this section on the history of The Ragtime Society comes mainly from the March-April-May-June 1982 edition of The Ragtimer). The Ragtime Society took as its motto the phrase "Dedicated to the Preservation of Classical Ragtime." The Ragtime Society was only later incorporated June 30, 1970, as a non profit corporation in Ontario with its first directors being Jack Aldred, Anne Arpin, John Arpin, Jean Cuff, Jack Cuff, John Fairhead, Idamay MacInnes and Baron McCormick. Its first officers were John Arpin, President, John Fairhead, Secretary and Idamay MacInnes, Treasurer.

The Society's first newsletter was published in February 1962 and its first sentence announced: "It is very gratifying to find so many Canadians and Americans interested in Classic Ragtime."

Sample cover of The
                                      Ragtimer (March/April 1980)

: Sample cover (in black & white; original covers and newsletters printed on coloured stock) of the March/April 1980 The Ragtimer published by the Ragtime Society (cover designed in 1968 by Jack Thompson of Detroit).

On May 4, 1962, a memorial concert was organized for Joseph Lamb at Massey Hall in Toronto with Robert Darch and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with more than 2,500 persons in attendance.

Some of the early activities of the Society included sourcing hard to find rags, producing a number of ragtime records under the Scroll label and organizing annual "bashes" at which members and invited guests entertained with ragtime music. In 1964, the Society arranged for a limited edition reprinting of Scott Joplin's ragtime opera Treemonisha. Also in 1964 was the Society's first of many annual bashes. The bashes were energetic affairs with numerous performers. The November/December 1976 edition of The Ragtimer, for example, lists only some of the performers as including William Bolcolm and Joan Morris, Terry Waldo, Tex Wyndham, Eubie Blake (age 93), John Arpin, Lou Hooper, and The Canadian Brass, with Amelia Lamb and Joe Lamb Jr as guests. The program notes indicate that performances, of which there were over 45, went from 3 pm to past midnight.

5.2)   John Arpin [top]

John Arpin (born December 3, 1936, died November 8, 2007) was one of Canada's most renown pianists with a constant repertoire of classic ragtime piano in addition to a variety of other musical styles. From his official online biography (an archived version of which is available here), we learn that he was born in Port McNicoll, Ontario, and graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music at the tender age of 16. Although Arpin then attended the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, he abandoned the academic experience in favour of performing at various local establishments and conducting a choir. According to his biography, Arpin "could also be found on the concert stage accompanying an opera singer, or performing turn-of-the-century music by Canadian composers on radio." He has recorded numerous CDs, including a number of ragtime CDs. One of his more recent recordings is the wonderful "Blue Gardenia" featuring the Latin American music of Hal Isbitz (highly recommended).

Arpin was awarded the Scott Joplin Award in 1998 by the Scott Joplin Foundation in Sedalia, Missouri.

Attending one of Arpin's concerts was a pleasure; he usually started with a number of rags (often with Peacherine Rag by Scott Joplin) and recounted numerous stories of his friendship with Eubie Blake. At the last concert I saw in Toronto a few years ago, one of his encores included a ragtime song, When Ragtime Rosie Ragged the Rosary.

Known as the "Chopin of Ragtime," Arpin was a versatile pianist, comfortable in any number of genres. He was quoted in 1966 as saying that "I once figured out I know 2,000 tunes," at a time when he worked two gigs: performing ragtime at at the Last Chance Saloon in Toronto until 8:30, and then moving to Mister Tony's in Yorkville where he performed show tunes and classical piano (Scott:1966).

He is one of the few Canadian ragtimers to have an entry in the The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (see his entry here).

His official website has been de-activated but can still be viewed here at the Internet Archive.

John Arpin passed away on Thursday, November 8, 2007.

His wife kept a blog here describing his battle with cancer and many details about his (and their) personal life.

York University continues to digitize Arpin's personal collection of sheet donated by his wife (currently over 8,000 titles).

5.3)   Mimi Blais [top]

Mimi is a pianist from Montreal, Quebec, whose repertoire is heavily infused with ragtime music. She is a regular performer at various ragtime festivals and concerts and has recorded a number of CDs, including a CD of the rags of Jéan-Baptiste LaFrenière (1874-1912), himself a pianist and composer from Quebec who composed a number of interesting rags and waltzes that are featured in my separate essay on Jéan-Baptiste LaFrenière and ragtime in Québec.

 The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada has a detailed entry for Mimi here.

5.4)   Eubie Blake (February 7, 1887 – February 12, 1983) [top]

Eubie Blake is a legendary ragtime composer and performer. Although an American citizen, he deserves mention in this essay on the ragtime revival in Canada due to his numerous performances here in various clubs and at annual "bashes" of the Canadian Ragtime Society. The January/February 1974 edition of The Ragtimer, for example, describes at page 17 the first appearance of Ragtime Bob Darch and Eubie appearing together in Canada on October 12, 1973, at York University, as also evidenced by the poster below from the Maryland Historical Society.

I have been trying to ascertain Eubie's other Canadian performances (and will need to review copies of The Ragtimer newsletter held by the Toronto Reference Library again in the near future). So far, I have confirmed the following additional dates:
  • November 14 and 15, 1960, at Club 76 in Toronto at the invitation of Bob Darch (source: Globe & Mail, 14 November 1960:24).
  • July 27, 1968, at annual Ragtime Society bash (source: Globe & Mail, 29 July 1968:12).
  • November 1, 1969, at annual Ragtime Society bash (source: Globe & Mail, 3 November 1969:14).
  • 1970 Ragtime Society annual bash?
  • November 6, 1971, at annual Ragtime Society bash (source: Globe & Mail, 8 November 1971:18). He wrote and performed Melodic Rag especially for this performance.
  • October 23, 1976, at annual Ragtime Society bash (source: Globe & Mail, 25 October 1976:16). In this article, Eubie admits to the reporter that he was smoking cigarettes since the age of 6.
  • May 1, 1978, in Canada to tape a TV show (Peter Appleyard Presents, CHCH) (source: Globe & Mail, 1 May 1978:14).
  • September 29, 1979, at annual Ragtime Society bash (source: Globe & Mail, 1 October 1979:15).
  • June 3, 1980: Broadway show Eubie opens in Toronto for a 7-week run (source: Globe & Mail, 4 June 1980:15)
Poster advertising performances by
                                Ragtime Bob Darch and Eubie on October
                                12, 1973, at York University, in
                                Toronto, Canada.

Poster advertising performances by Ragtime Bob Darch and Eubie on October 12, 1973, at York University, in Toronto, Canada.

5.5)   "Ragtime Bob" Darch [top]

"Ragtime Bob" Darch would qualify as an honorary Canadian due to his important presence in Toronto at Club 76 during the early 1960's and the role that he played in keeping ragtime alive ("Ragtime is dead? Hell, it ain't even sick!"). He is credited with encouraging Eubie Blake to come out of retirement and was instrumental in organizing a trip by Joseph Lamb to Toronto in 1959 for one of Lamb's very few public performances.

Darch was known for promoting ragtime through his playing in saloons and any venue where he could play ragtime.

Newspaper Ad for "Club
                                  76" in Toronto from the June 7,
                                  1962 Globe & Mail

: Newspaper Ad for "Club 76" in Toronto from the June 7, 1962, Globe & Mail mentioning one of "Ragtime Bob" Darch's many appearances at Club 76.

Known for his "Five Pedal Cornish Upright Saloon Grand Piano," Darch was not only a ragtime player but also a composer and researcher. Here is a picture of Darch standing next to his famous piano with a note on the photo from Eubie Blake saying "Ragtime Bob Darch 1959 He's one great Ragtime Pianist of his time. E.B."

Photo of Ragtime Bob Darch next to
                                his piano, circa 1969

Left: Photo of "Ragtime Bob" Darch next to his piano (circa 1959) from the Maryland Historical Society, Eubie Blake Collection.

Well-known ragtimer, Ian Whitcomb, has a nice online article entitled "Bob Darch: My Adventures with the Great Man."

Darch passed away on October 20, 2002, in Springfield, Missouri. The Rose Leaf Ragtime Club has a nice online profile on this important ragtimer (archived version here).

5.6)   Lou Hooper [top]

Lou Hooper was born in North Buxton, Ontario, on May 18, 1884, and died in Charlottetown, PEI, on September 17, 1977. Although Hooper spent much of his musical career in the United States, he never forgot his Canadian roots. He studied music in Detroit and also formed a small orchestra and played for various local dances. He served in a US army concert band during World War I, after which he lived in Harlem, New York, from 1921 to 1927 where he continued to study music and play with various well known jazz bands, backing a number of famous vocalists, including Ethel Waters, Ma Rainey, and Mamie Smith. He accompanied Paul Robeson on tour in 1926 and was a member of Lew Leslie's Blackbirds.

Apparently, Hooper composed a number of ragtime compositions, including The Cakewalk, Black Cat Blues (1925), South Sea Strut and Uncle Remus Stomp, but I have not yet been able to locate copies of these pieces.

Hooper returned to Canada in the 1930's and ended up in Montreal where he played in various bands and taught piano, with one of his students being Oscar Peterson.

The Music Archives at the National Library of Canada has acquired archival material on Lou Hooper (obtained from his wife in 1980 (click here for more information).

5.7)   Austin Kitchen [top]

The September/October 1975 edition of The Ragtimer provides a brief article (and photo) of Austin Kitchen and describes him as the composer of The Mississauga Rag. He is also briefly mentioned in the "ragtime" entry to the The Canadian Encyclopedia as being from Mississauga, Ontario. The article in The Ragtimer mentions that he was very proud of the copy of the 1899 Charleston Rag by Eubie Blake that Blake personally sent him. The article also mentions that Kitchen played piano at Casa Loma in Toronto for 4 years and played with King Ganam, Tommy Hunter, and Gordie Tapp and that he also used to write reels and jigs on the fiddle. I identified an additional piece composed by Kitchen, being Once Upon a Time (Mississauga, ON: Eldorado Music Publications, 1975), but it is not clear whether or not this is a ragtime piano composition.

5.8)   David Lee (Born: Hamilton, ON: 10 November 1934 – 22 January 2019) [top]

David Lee is mentioned in the "ragtime" entry to The Canadian Encyclopedia as being a lawyer from Dundas, Ontario, who has composed a number of rags published by his own company, Dun-Val Music. I have been able to identify 11 rags composed by Lee, listed below, but they have been difficult to source (with the only source I have found so far being a folio of David Lee rags held by the Hamilton Public Library in Ontario, which I recently borrowed) (or you can purchase them directly from the composer's family).

A reader of this site recently sent an email letting me know that the liner notes to David Lee's ragtime LP called "Original Rags" provided more information about the composer, containing the following comments by David Lee on his compositions:

My first five compositions Scotty Dog Rag, Pussy Cat Rag, Tough Bananas, Pumpkin Pie, and Salad Dressing followed the traditional classic rag formula with their themes arranged A-A, B-B, A, C-C, D-D. They are interesting from a musical was well as an academic point of view, but the inherent repetitions in all rags make listening to a seemingly endless succession of classic rags quite tedious, with a bewildering confusion of music which "all sounds the same". Someone said that the rhythms and dynamics of ragtime form the basis of all music written since 1900   or, in other words, ragtime was absorbed by, or developed into, present day music. With this in mind, I composed one with a Latin rhythm (RAG-A-MA-TANGO), a waltz (EUPHORIA), and two swing rags (THE SWINGER) and (SMOOTH MOVES). Again, following Scott Joplin's admonition that "it is never right to play ragtime fast", I reasoned that a slow, mood rag with emphasis on the melodic line and expression would produce a nice contrast to the more usual metronomic rhythm. Thus came LULLABY RAG. Although its form is still classic, it is played in "dream" tempo. My most recent work is SWAGGERIN' and it is a return to the rhythms normally associated with ragtime, but its notation is much more simple than in some of the others.

My objective in recording this collection was to attempt to share with you the rich, rhythmic, syncopated compositions which I've been delighted to discover. If, by listening to this album, you derive even a fraction of the pleasure I've had in composing and playing my rags, my efforts will, indeed, be well rewarded.

The liner notes by Ross Wilby (from November 1976) also indicate that David Lee was married with four kids and that he and his wife, Ruth, both obtained music degrees.

A newspaper story here from 2015 describes David Lee's life, including his miniature train collection.

David Lee passed away on January 22, 2019.

David Lee Ragtime Compositions
  • Pussy Cat Rag. Dundas, ON: Dun-Val Music Publishers, 1975.
  • Euphoria: A Rag Waltz Piano Solo. Dundas, ON: Dun-Val Music Publishers, 1977.
  • Scotty Dog Rag. Dundas, ON: Dun-Val Music Publishers, 1975.
  • Pumpkin Pie: A Rag Piano Solo. Dundas, ON: Dun-Val Music Publishers, 1975.
  • Tough Bananas: A Rag Piano Solo. Dundas, ON: Dun-Val Music Publishers, 1975.
  • Salad Dressing: A Rag Piano Solo. Dundas, ON: Dun-Val Music Publishers, 1975. 
  • Lullaby Rag. Dundas, ON: Dun-Val Music Publishers, 1976.
  • Rag-a-Ma-Tango: Piano Solo. Dundas, ON: Dun-Val Music Publishers, 1976.
  • Smooth Moves: A Swing Rag Piano Solo. Dundas, ON: Dun-Val Music Publishers, 1976.
  • The Swinger: A Modern Rag Piano Solo. Dundas, ON: Dun-Val Music Publishers, 1976.
  • Swaggerin': A Rag Piano Solo. Dundas, ON: Dun-Val Music Publishers, 1977.

In the next chapter, I have included .mp3 recordings of selected Canadian ragtime music.

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This site created by Ted Tjaden. Page last updated: January 2022.