Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Ragtime Kid in Venice

It's official now. The Friends of the Crowell Public Library in San Marino, CA have announced the selection of THE RAGTIME KID (and by extension, THE KING OF RAGTIME and THE RAGTIME FOOL) as the 2011 selection for their annual One Book/One City Festival. There's a preliminary schedule of programs during the next three months, leading up to my talk at the library on April 28. If you live in Southern California, you might enjoy taking in some of the ragtime festivities.

The Ragtime Kid was a real person. His name was Brun Campbell, and in 1899, at age 15, he hopped a train in Oklahoma, and traveled to Sedalia, MO, to take piano lessons from Scott Joplin. Before Brun left Sedalia to pursue a career as an itinerant pianist in the midwest, Joplin nicknamed him The Ragtime Kid, a title which Brun carried proudly for the rest of his life.

By the end of World War I, though, ragtime gave way to jazz, and Brun was out of work, so, like his father, he became a barber. In 1929 or 1930, he moved his family from Tulsa to Venice, CA - less than 15 miles down the 110 Freeway from San Marino - both to take advantage of better economic conditions on the west coast, and to provide a more healthful environment for one of his daughters who suffered from asthma. Brun lived in the same house and worked at the same barber shop in Venice from then until his death in 1952. Despite his wife's highly negative attitude toward ragtime (which led me to re-christen him THE RAGTIME FOOL), he was a major player in the ragtime revival of the 1940s. He even appeared as a character, though not in a very favorable light, in Ray Bradbury's homage to old Venice, DEATH IS

But Venetians these days don't seem terribly interested in Brun; relatively few have even heard of him. That's not as it should be. I'll have more to say on this in upcoming blogs, as I keep you posted on the San Marino festivities. And I'll certainly have my say in San Marino on April 28. Crowell Public Library, 1890 Huntington Drive, 7pm.

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