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Trailblazing artists are usually better-remembered than Vess L. Ossman. The first musician to make a ragtime record, the ‘King of the Banjo’, and one of the biggest names of the Edwardian era, Sylvester’s reputation suffered three blows in the post-WW1 era – his genre (ragtime) was superseded by a more inventive one (jazz) , his reign as the ‘King of the Banjo’ was cut short by the rapid rise of a rival, and most importantly perhaps, his instrument fell out of fashion, except in bluegrass music, where it was played in a very different way.
Vess was born in Hudson, New York in 1868, and spent the entirity of his adult life as a professional musician, recording for 25 years, and touring America and further afield for more than 30. His final recordings were made in 1917, but he continued to tour with his son, Vess L. Ossman Jr., until his death from an on-stage heart attack in 1923 at the age of 55.
Vess L. Ossman was the first musican I felt I’d “discovered” in my research – a bit of an arrogant framing, I’m afraid. In his lifetime Vess achieved international fame and recorded plenty of good music, much of it of great historical importance, but the ragtime banjo now seems like it should be an obscure footnote. it isn’t. With this compilation I hope to do a little to spread awareness of his legacy.