The name May Aufderheide might be familiar to Bunk Johnson fans, as her once famous "Dusty Rag" became part of the Dixie Revival when Bunk's band recorded it during the 1940s. Born on May 21st 1890 in Indianapolis Indiana, Ms. Aufderheide was uncommonly successful as a female composer of ragtime, a genre every bit as male dominated as jazz would come to be. Her father John Henry Aufderheide has been described as a violinist, banker, multiple pawnshop owner, money lender, and music publisher. During adolescence, May received classical music instruction from her father's sister May Kolmer, who played piano with the Indianapolis Symphony
Orchestra and eventually secured a teaching position at the Metropolitan School of Music in Toronto. Growing up in turn-of-the-century Midwestern North America, young May soon came under the influence of ragtime. By 1908 she had composed her own rag and decided to get it published. Assisted by an arranger and engraver named Paul Pratt (destined to devise a few rags of his own), May brought out her "Dusty Rag" in 1908. The cover illustration was by Duane Crabb, who also kindly facilitated the printing arrangements. "Dusty Rag" was the first important rag to emerge from the Indiana-Ohio region. May married an architect, Thomas M. Kaufman, and moved with him to Richmond where she continued to compose rags. Her father, respecting May's abilities and seeing great promise in the commodity of ragtime sheet music, opened his own music publishing house for the express purpose of marketing his daughter's tunes, beginning with "Dusty Rag" and her other composition from 1908, the "Richmond Rag". Success continued through 1909 with "Buzzer Rag" and May's popular hit "The Thriller!". Her "Blue Ribbon Rag" was published in 1910. By this time, everybody was publishing thematically titled rags, creating somewhat of a glut. May seems to have referenced this aspect of the trend with "A Totally Different Rag". Earle C. Jones wrote lyrics to this and May's other piece from 1910, "In Bamboo Land". May's last piano rag to achieve publication during her lifetime was the "Novelty Rag", introduced in 1911, along with three pop songs: "I Want A Patriotic Girl", "You And Me In The Summertime" and "I Want A Real Lovin' Man", written in collaboration with Paul Pratt. By 1912 the fad was over, at least as far as the Aufderheide publishing house was concerned. Words were tacked on to the "Dusty Rag" but the public hardly seemed to notice. By now May and her husband had moved back to Indianapolis where they raised an adopted child. Kaufman gave up on architecture and opted for a position in his father-in-law's banking firm. May gradually gave up composing, then eventually ceased playing music altogether. The Aufderheide family relocated to southern California after World War II. Crippled by arthritis and confined to a wheelchair, May Aufderheide lived out the rest of her days in Pasadena where she quietly passed away on September 1st 1972. A complete reassessment and revival of her work is long overdue.