The Black Lamb of the Family:
Joseph F. Lamb's Minstrel Shows.
The great classic ragtimer Joseph Lamb did not make his living
with music, so he had no obligations to keep composing. But what
did he do after the ragtime era ended? We know from Rudi Blesh
and Harriet Janis' They All Played Ragtime that in the
1920s Lamb composed novelty piano solos for Mills Music, but
they were never published. Recollections from his family tell
us of his dedication to his music through the years. His widow,
Amelia, told me years ago that "every night he played the
piano, every night." 2
This was his after-dinner ritual. His daughter Patricia enjoyed
listening to him when she was a girl, and sometimes played along
"He kept composing rags, but I don't think he wrote any
of them down at that time. He would just get these melodies in
his head and he'd play them...I would say to him, 'Well, that's
a pretty thing -- have you got it written down?' and he'd say,
"No -- why should I bother? Nobody's interested in this
stuff anymore. Nobody cares any more about it.'"
"When I was graduating from high school (1942) -- I was
in a private school -- any girl that could [write music was invited
to] write a song for the graduation. Not being musically inclined
myself, I said to my father. 'Well, you have this rag; it's such
a pretty thing, why don't you write some words and I'll take
it to school?' He said, 'You can't do that.' I said, 'Why not?'
and he said, 'Because you didn't write it,' and I said, 'Well,
that's true.' It turns out that piece was Cottontail Rag...I
was willing to have a rag played at [my graduation!] But that
never materialized...It never even came out until it was published
in the Ragtime Treasures book. All that time it was hanging around
and I thought it was so pretty."