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Women Composers of Ragtime

Featuring Hoosier Rag (1907) by Julia Lee Niebergall and other Rags Written by Women

 

By Ted Tjaden

(originally published June 2006 and updated periodically)
(note: updates have been minor; check the bibliography below for
researchers who have continued research on women composers of ragtime)

 

 

There is a wonderful body of work of piano ragtime music composed by women. This body of work, however, tends to garner less visibility than the more well known "Big Three" ragtime composers Scott Joplin, James Scott and Joseph F. Lamb. Fortunately, a number of ragtime enthusiasts continue to research the role of women in ragtime composition. The goal of this essay is to provide access to the compositions and sheet music of women composers of ragtime. Included in these pages is a list of 829 rags or ragtime-era compositions by women, with 395 (or 48%) of those titles having the sheet music available (for free). Information is provided on the following topics:

1)  Introduction to Women Composers of Ragtime
2)  Profiles of Important Female Ragtime Composers
3)  Sheet Music for Rags Composed by Women:

By surname:   A-F, G-L, M-R, S-Z

4)  Commercial Recordings of Rags Composed by Women
5)  Bibliography

 

1)  Introduction to Women Composers of Ragtime     [top]

Although ragtime music often conjures up a "male world" of a piano player banging out tunes in a smoke-filled saloon of men gambling, it is likely fair to suggest that women were prime consumers of ragtime sheet music during the ragtime era and that women composers played a larger role than many might assume. In particular, Indiana and the American mid-West tended to produce a disproportionately large number of female composers of ragtime music. Max Morath is rightfully given credit during the ragtime revival for focusing attention on the role of female composers of rags (see his article on ragtime women). More recently, Perfessor Bill Edwards has an online article devoted to female ragtime composers and ragtimer Nora Hulse has recorded and published a large number of rare and interesting rags by women (and continues her research, as does Nan Bostick).

Although many female composers of rags wrote only a single rag, either as a hobby, a puff piece or because of their personal circumstances (for example, a number of female composers appeared to stop composing after getting married), there are a number of female composers of rags who were quite prolific. Some composers (and entertainers), such as May Irwin, in fact became quite wealthy as a result of their work.

Some of the more well known or prolific female composers of rags are set out below, with the number of compositions included in my lists indicated in parentheses (realize of course that my lists are not exhaustive or complete; some researchers suggest that Sadie Koninsky, for example, composed hundreds of compositions; for now, I have been only able to confirm 35 of them):

My lists of female composers of rags in section 3 below are broad and inclusive and include female composers of not only "pure" rags but also composers of marches, waltzes and other ragtime-era compositions; as such, I include on my lists a number of female composers that do not appear on standard lists of female ragtime composers.

 

2)  Profiles of Important Female Ragtime Composers     [top]

I had initially planned in this essay to provide summaries of the lives of some of the major female composers of ragtime music. However, in conducting my research, I felt that sufficient work was being done by others in this area that I could instead focus on providing access to the sheet music of rags composed by women. Some of the resources useful for finding out more information on women composers of ragtime include but are not limited to the following resources:

  • Adams, Elliott. "N. Weldon Cocroft: Ragtime Pioneer" (May 1994) Rag Times 1.
  • Hasse, John Edward. The Creation and Dissemination of Indianapolis Ragtime. Ph.D. Dissertation, 1981 (Indiana University).
  • Hulse, Nora and Nan Bostick. "Ragtime's Women Composers: An Annotated Lexicon" (2002) 3 Ragtime Ephemeralist: 106-35 (excerpt of article and details to purchase Ragtime Ephmeralist available here).
  • Jasen, David A. and Gene Jones. That American Rag: The Story of Ragtime from Coast to Coast. New York, NY: Schirmer Books, 2000.
  • Morath, Max and John Edward Hasse. "Ragtime Compositions by Women" in John Edward Hesse, ed., Ragtime: Its History, Composers and Music. New York, NY: Schirmer, 1985:368-75.
  • "Nellie Cocroft" (click here for a short online biography, as archived by the Internet Archive)
  • Zimmerman, Richard. "Sadie Koninsky: Ragtime's First Important Female Composer" (July 2000) Rag Times 1.

A challenge in researching female composers of rags is that a number of rags have been published where the composer's given/first name is set out only in initials, and it is therefore not always easy to identify the gender of the composer (in fact, because of the different social conditions in the ragtime era, many female composers may have felt obliged to hide their gender by using initials).

Although I didn't use the following databases in compiling my list of ragtime compositions by women, other researchers may find the database useful. It is a searchable database created by Christopher Reynolds (University of California, Davis) and is entitled "Women Song Composers: A Listing of Songs Published in the United States and England, ca. 1890-1930". The database contains 5,116 compositions and can be accessed here.

There are a number of contemporary female ragtime personalities who are active in performing and recording ragtime:

  • Nan Bostick: Nan, who passed away from lung cancer on March 26, 2012, had strong roots in the ragtime field that date back to her great uncle, ragtime composer Charles Daniels (who also used the pseudonym Neil Moret). Nan recorded a ragtime CD with her partner, Tom Brier, and continues her research and performances on ragtime.
  • Larisa Migachyov: Larisa — the "ragtime chick" — is a Russian-born composer and ragtime composer (and patent attorney). In addition to performing at major ragtime festivals, she has also composed a number of rags.
  • Virginia Tichenor: Virginia is another ragtime pianist and daughter of well-known ragtimer Trebor Tichenor. She has recorded a ragtime CD called "Virginia's Favorites" (Stomp Off Records).

 

3)  Sheet Music for Rags Composed by Women    [top]

There are currently 829 ragtime or ragtime-era compositions by female composers listed on this site, with close to half of the titles containing (free) links to the sheet music for those compositions. Due to the large number of entries in my lists, I was obliged to divide the lists into four separate pages by composer surname to keep the lengths of each page to a reasonable limit. I compiled these lists of compositions of rags by women using the following sources:

  • Nora Hulse and Nan Bostick, "Ragtime's Women Composers: An Annotated Lexicon" (2002) 3 Ragtime Ephemeralist: 106-35 (excerpt of article and details to purchase Ragtime Ephmeralist available here).

  • David A. Jasen and Gene Jones, That American Rag: The Story of Ragtime from Coast to Coast (New York, NY: Schirmer Books, 2000).

  • Richard Zimmerman, "Sadie Koninsky: Ragtime's First Important Female Composer" (July 2000) Rag Times 1.
  • Max Morath and John Edward Hasse, "Ragtime Compositions by Women" in John Edward Hesse, ed., Ragtime: Its History, Composers and Music (New York, NY: Schirmer, 1985: 368-75).

  • Various online library catalogues

  • My own collection

Where the sheet music is in the public domain and available online, I provide links to the sheet music and cover for the composition. Where the sheet music is not available online, I indicate in parentheses the print source for the sheet music or the source where the composition is mentioned.

The list of rags composed by women (and the links to sheet music, where available) can be accessed here, by surname:

 

4)  Commercial Recordings of Rags Composed by Women   [top]

Max Morath was one of the early ragtime pioneers to feature recordings of rags composed by women with his 1977 Vanguard Records album entitled The Ragtime Women which contains the following compositions:

1. Red Rambler Rag (Juila Niebergall)
2. Hoosier Rag (Juila Niebergall)
3. Piffle Rag (Gladys Yelvington)
4. Rooster Rag (Muriel Pollock)
5. The Thriller (May Aufderheide)
6. That Sentimental Rag (Mabel Tilton)
7. Poker Rag (Charlotte Blake)
8. Romantic Rag (Kathy Craig)
9. X-N-Tric-Two-Step Characterisitc (Louise V. Gustin)
10. Pickles And Peppers, A Rag Oddity (Adeline Shepherd)

Nora Hulse, in addition to recently authoring the excellent article with Nan Bostick on female ragtime composers, has recorded a number of CDs and produced folios of ragtime sheet music of rags composed by women. Her CDs include:

In addition, Nan Bostick recorded a CD with Tom Brier entitled Missing You at the McCoys that contains a number of rags composed by women.

 

5)  Bibliography   [top]

Set out below is a fairly complete list of books and articles that discuss the role of women in ragtime music.

  • Block, Adrienne Fried, assisted by Nancy Stewart. "Women in American Music, 1800-1918." In Women and Music: A History, ed. Karen Pendle, 142- 174. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991.
  • Borroff, Edith. "An American Parlor at the Turn of the Century." American Music 4, no. 3, 302-308.
  • Glickman, Sylvia, and Martha Furman Schleifer, eds. Women Composers: Music Through the Ages. Vol. 6, "May Francis Aufderheide" by Carolynn A. Lindeman. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1999.
  • Hasse, J.E., ed. Ragtime: Its History, Composers, and Music. New York, NY: Schirmer Books, 1985.
  • Hulse, Nora. "Nora Hulse: Ragtime Pianist Specializing in Rags by Women Composers" Available online: <http://www.nora.hulse.com>.
  • Hulse, Nora and Nan Bostick. "Ragtime's Women Composers: An Annotated Lexicon." (2002) 3 Ragtime Ephemeralist: 106-35. Excerpt of article and details to purchase Ragtime Ephmeralist available here.
  • Hulse, Nora, ed. Cake Walks, Two Steps and Rags by Women Composers (1899-1920). Columbia, MO: Nora Hulse, 2001. Purchase details.
  • Hulse, Nora, ed. Ragtime Refreshments: 25 Rags by Women Composers. Lake Ozark, MO: Nora Hulse, 2003. Purchase details.
  • Jasen, David A., and Gene Jones. Spreadin' Rhythm Around: Black Popular Songwriters,1890-1920. New York: Schirrner Books, 1998.
  • Jasen, David A., and Gene Jones. That American Rag: The Story of Ragtime from Coast to Coast. New York, NY: Schirrner Books, 2000. 
  • Jasen, David A., and Trebor Jay Tichenor. Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History. New York, NY: Dover Publication, 1989.
  • Lindeman, Carolynn A. ed. Women Composers of Ragtime: A Collection of Six Selected Rags by Women Composers. Bryn Mawr, PA: Theodore Presser Company, 1985.
  • Lindeman, C.A. "Women in Rags" (1985) 5(4) Keyboards Classic.
  • Morath, Max. "May Aufderheide and the Ragtime Women" in John Edward Hesse, ed., Ragtime: Its History, Composers and Music. New York, NY: Schirmer, 1985.
  • Morath, Max and John Edward Hasse. "Ragtime Compositions by Women" in John Edward Hesse, ed., Ragtime: Its History, Composers and Music. New York, NY: Schirmer, 1985: 368-75.
  • Pendle, Karin. Women and Music: A History. 2nd ed. Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • Pilkington, Laura Ann. "Three Ragtime Women in Socio-historical Context: The Lives, Times and Music of May Aufderheide, Julia Lee Niebergall and Adaline Shepherd" (M.A. Thesis 2000, University of Oregon).
  • Schafer, William J., and Johannes Riedel. The Art of Ragtime: From and Meaning of an Original Black American Art. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973.
  • Tawa, Nicholas E. Sweet Songs for Gentle Americans: The Parlor Song in America, 1790-1860. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1980.
  • Zimmerman, Richard. 101 Rare Rags. 2nd ed. Grass Valley, CA: Richard Zimmerman, 1995.
  • Zimmerman, Richard. First Ladies of Hoosier Ragtime. Grass Valley, CA: Richard Zimmerman, 1990.
  • Zimmerman, Richard. Gems of Texas Ragtime. Grass Valley, CA: The American Ragtime Company, 1996.
  • Zimmerman, Richard. "Sadie Koninsky: Ragtime's First Important Female Composer" (July 2000) Rag Times 1.

 

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This site created by Ted Tjaden. Page last updated: September 10, 2012.