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Wed, 06.18.1873

Tom Turpin, Ragtime Musician born

Tom Turpin

Tom Turpin’s birth in 1873 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black musician and businessman.

Turpin was from Savannah, Georgia, the second son of John and Lulu Turpin. His father was politically active during Reconstruction and was often called "Honest John." The elder Turpin was proud that he never worked for another man after Emancipation (a street in Savannah is named after the Turpin Family). In the early 1880s, the Turpin family moved to St. Louis, where Honest John opened the Silver Dollar Saloon until 1903, when it was torn down to build a railroad station in anticipation of the St. Louis Exposition of 1904.

Young Tom Turpin taught himself to play the piano.  He, however, did not have the same musical talent or drive as Scott Joplin or Otis Saunders. He saw music as a way of having fun and making money.  In 1885, Turpin and his brother Charles bought an interest in a gold mine and moved to Nevada. The mine yielded little gold, and the two were soon forced to return to St. Louis, where Turpin opened The Rosebud Cafe.  He had already made his mark as the author of “Harlem Rag” (1897), the first published instrumental rag by an African American composer.

While Turpin published only four other rags in his lifetime- "The Bowery Buck" (1899), "A Ragtime Nightmare" (1900), "St. Louis Rag" (1903), and "The Buffalo Rag" (1904), his influence on the development of ragtime was immense.  The Rosebud Cafe was a regular meeting place of St. Louis' best rag players and was the first stop of any musician traveling through the Gateway City to the West. Tom Turpin died in 1922.

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