Ragtime Music

Charles (Buddy) Bolden was born in 1877 in New Orleans. Not much is known about his early youth and much is unconfirmed myths. One thing that is known is that his father died when he was six.

Buddy played the cornet. One of the stories told about his life was that he found his first cornet on the street. He could not read music, but that didn’t hold him back. While still in his early 20s, he had formed the most successful band in New Orleans. He was called King Bolden.

The music that Buddy’s band played was livelier and louder than that played by other bands. It was called jass at first and later jazz. He was a charismatic band leader and popular, especially with women.

Buddy and his band were unchallenged in New Orleans during the early 1900’s. But in 1906, Buddy came down with a series of maladies that are still uncertain as to their diagnosis. It started with headaches, which quickly resulted in an inability to play music. He was sent to a mental hospital for what was thought to be schizophrenia. He lost his memory and the hospital records that remain contain no mention of his playing music. A review of his medical records suggests that the onset of his medical issues was pellagra, a vitamin deficiency common in African-American populations in the South at that time. He died in 1931 at the age of 54. The last 24 years of his life were spent in mental institutions.

There are no known recordings of Buddy or his band. What we know of his music and his life are mostly oral histories from those who performed with him. In spite of the lack of documentation, Buddy is recognized today for his contributions to America’s music history. And all of his remarkable accomplishments were achieved before he was 30 years of age.

His music had its roots in the music of African-American churches, rural plantation gatherings, and the energetic music of New Orleans. He was the first to use brass instruments in blues music. He also laid the groundwork for what would later become known as improvisation.

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“Jazz is a white term to define black people. My music is black classical music.” – Nina Simone

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