Artie Matthews

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For many years, this person's birthplace was listed as Minonk, Illinois. According to an article written by his son, Artie Matthews was actually born 60 miles northeast of Minonk in Braidwood, Illinois…
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For many years, this person's birthplace was listed as Minonk, Illinois. According to an article written by his son, Artie Matthews was actually born 60 miles northeast of Minonk in Braidwood, Illinois on November 15, 1888. Raised in Springfield, he learned from his mother how to play the piano. In 1904 at the age of 16 he tried to perform at the fair in St Louis, where a swarm of feisty ragtime artists dominated the turf and frightened him off. Back in Springfield during 1905 and 1906, he got himself an education in syncopation from piano aces Banty Morgan and Art Dunningham. He performed in the streets as a member of a mandolin, violin, and steel guitar trio, and played piano in a number of Springfield's wine rooms and bordellos. Matthews moved to St. Louis in 1907 and found a communal, non-competitive atmosphere among creative pianists at Tom Turpin's Rosebud Café. The earliest surviving musical composition by Artie Matthews, "Give Me, Dear, Just One More Chance," dates from 1908. Matthews and his friends met and heard Jelly Roll Morton when he came through town in 1911. In August 1912, Matthews arranged the very first piece of published music using the word "blues" to describe music as well as human emotion: It was the "Baby Seals Blues," a specialty number by the vaudeville team of Seals and Fisher. Matthews also arranged "Well, If I Do, Don't You Let It Get Out" for this duo. While visiting Cincinnati he devised a very Scott Joplin-like arrangement of Luckey Roberts' "Junk Man Rag." Matthews published three songs of his own in 1912: "Twilight Dreams," "Wise Old Moon," and "Everybody Makes Love to Someone." He worked at Charlie Turpin's Booker T. Washington Theater in St. Louis during 1913, composing material for small-time musicals and variety shows. Apparently, these scores were considered disposable and were, in fact, thrown away at the end of each week. Matthews also composed accompaniments for intermission talent shows at Barrett's Theatorium, and wrote tunes for shows presented at the Princess Roadhouse. The owners of this establishment published a handful of these: "The Princess Prance," "When I'm Gone," and "Lucky Dan My Gambling Man." But his most important feat of 1913 was the publication of his first two "Pastime Rags." The first of these is acknowledged to be a very early example of a "barrelhouse" walking bass line in a printed musical score. Some composers were only able to publish their rags because Matthews wrote out the music for them. He did this with "Cataract" by Rob Hampton, and Charley Thompson's "Lily Rag" of 1914. In 1915, publisher John Stark held a sort of contest among the local composers, asking them each to come up with a blues song that would stand up to W.C. Handy's enormously popular "St. Louis Blues." Artie Matthews won the competition with his "Weary Blues," an exciting stomp that became a traditional jazz anthem after Tommy Ladnier and Sidney Bechet made a scorching hot record of it in 1938. Stark paid Matthews $50.00 plus royalties, and an additional $27.00 "to buy himself a new suit." There is a theory that "Weary Blues" was originally one of the "Pastime Rags," all of which are believed to have been composed around 1913. "Pastime Rag No. 3" was published in 1916, "No. 5" in 1918, and "No. 4" in 1920. All of his "Pastime Rags" are subtitled "A Slow Drag." One last popular song, "Everything He Does Just Pleases Me," was brought out in 1916, but by that time Matthews was on a new path. Disillusioned by the unsavory social environment into which America seemed to always force any original music composed by African-Americans, Artie Matthews quit playing and writing ragtime music in 1915. He became an organist at Chicago's Berea Presbyterian Church in 1916, and developed an appetite for the works of J.S. Bach. By 1918 he had established himself in Cincinnati, where he and his wife, Anna Howard, founded the Cosmopolitan School of Music in 1921. It was the first African-American owned and operated conservatory in the United States of America. Matthews worked tirelessly over nearly four decades to assist and encourage aspiring African-American composers and performers. Frank Foster, renowned saxophonist and arranger for Count Basie, graduated from this institution. In 1938 Matthews received an honorary doctoral degree from Central State University. He directed choirs in Cincinnati's black churches, was secretary of the black musicians' union, produced black music festivals, worked as an arranger for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and composed a cantata entitled "Ethiopia." Dr. Matthews was a political activist who organized for the repeal of segregation laws. This remarkable man passed away in 1958. His son, Art Matthews, is an accomplished keyboard artist, one-man band, musical educator, and digital music innovator.