J. Bodewalt Lampe was the sheet music moniker of Danish-born composer and arranger "James" or Jens Bodewalt Lampe. Born in Ribe, Lampe arrived in America with his family in 1873 and settled in St. Paul, MN, where Lampe's father, Christian Lampe, was engaged to lead the Great Western Band. J. Bodewalt Lampe mastered the violin early and proved a quick study with most other instruments; by 1880, the younger Lampe was already serving as first violinist with the Minneapolis Symphony. By the 1890s, Lampe was leading his own dance orchestra and taking an interest in the burgeoning sheet music industry; 1893's "What the Wires Tell to Me" is one of his earliest known publications. Spurred on by the success of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" in 1899, Lampe followed it in 1900 with "Creole Belles," which proved the second tremendous hit in ragtime -- the sheet music sold into millions of copies. Pianist C. H. H. Booth made a record of it for Victor in 1901, which would have been the earliest known record of piano ragtime, but no one has ever found a copy of that; it may not have been released, though its release was announced. By 1905, however, "Creole Belles" had been recorded a number of times by Sousa's Band, Pryor's Band, and others, and was a standard favorite for years; even the Dixieland bands of the 1950s continued to play it.
Through about 1920, Lampe continued to compose syncopated dance music at an industrious pace and produced several hits, including "Dixie Girl" (1903), "Happy Heinie" (1905), "Georgia Sunset Cake Walk" (1908), "Hero of the Isthmus" (1912), and the "Turkey Trot" (1912), which became a staple of dancers Vernon and Irene Castle. During the First World War, Lampe turned his attention to creating a number of American patriotic tunes as well. Lampe led a touring band of his own known as Lampe's Grand Concert Band, and often performed in charity recitals with his wife and daughters; at various times he worked as a church organist and led opera companies; throughout his career he made an enormous number of arrangements and always maintained close ties with music publishers.
Lampe's wife died in 1918 and this ended his career as a performer. In the early '20s, Lampe's son Dell Lampe assumed leadership of the orchestra of the Trianon Ballroom, and J. Bodewalt Lampe became its musical director and chief arranger. The group recorded for the obscure Chicago-based label Autograph in 1924 and 1925, and these ultra-rare recordings are the closest we can get to a first-hand account of J. Bodewalt Lampe's musicianship, as he left no recordings of his own. In 1927, Lampe encouraged bandmember and saxophonist Wayne King to start his own orchestra and provided King with about a half-dozen arrangements; King was still using them when his band split up in 1942.
While Lampe's music was syncopated, his typical melodic gestures almost unconsciously incorporate ideas derived from Danish and German folk music as well; sometimes he used the pseudonym "Ribe Danmark" -- the name of his hometown. This is partly the reason why Lampe has not been accorded the attention that many of his compatriots in the "classic ragtime" era. However, in his own time, J. Bodewalt Lampe was considered just as significant a figure and, aside from Scott Joplin, was much more famous as a composer of ragtime than almost anyone else was.