Just finished reading Ragtime Blues in today’s Chicago Tribune. What a powerful article: Reginald Robinson, a drop-out from inner-city Chicago holed up in his bedroom and taught himself to play ragtime piano, and emerged just a few years later as a genius piano player who could evoke the ghost of Scott Joplin while composing original melodies that many consider Joplin’s equal.
Last fall, Robinson won the MacArthur Genius Award, which grants each winner a $100,000 annual stipend for five years. He heard he’d won while shivering in his Chicago apartment — the heat had been turned off and he was penniless.
A snippet from the article:
That a young man whose childhood was punctuated with shootings and other inner-city horrors—a kid who failed 7th grade before eventually bailing on the Chicago public schools-should emerge as the leading hope of a long-lost art form would seem remarkable enough. But that he taught himself practically everything he knows about music, spending years decoding notes and chords, only underscores the magnitude of his achievement.
Yet on this day, as on most others, his focus is not on his arduous journey but on its goal, the music. “A lot of people think ragtime is hokey,” concedes Robinson, who stands about 5 feet 8 inches but produces the colossal sound of a much larger man. “But in my mind, it’s deeper than that… . You can hear every emotion; all of life is in it.”
Check out the article, and look for re-releases of his CDs coming out soon. What little I’ve heard so far is spellbinding.