Ben R. Harney – Jazz originator

“Ragtime’s Father” and “Jazz Originator” are terms used to describe Benjamin Robertson Harney.  Harney was born to Benjamin Mills Harney and Margaret Wellington (Draffen) Harney in Kentucky.  Ben Harney, sometimes called the “Father of Ragtime,” was one of the first entertainers to put ragtime on the stage in legitimate theater and Vaudeville. Many also consider him the first to have corrupted either white music with a black form, or the black ragtime music in its adaptation into a white entertainment. Whichever may be true, he did introduce ragtime to a large segment of the white population, giving it the legs necessary to grow into a full-fledged genre sooner than it might have otherwise. He did not consider himself the genre’s father, but rather its adoptive parent.

One newspaper article published about 1928 claims “If any one man can be held responsible for this much-mooted ‘jazz age’ the distinction goes to an humble vaudeville pianist and comedian, Ben R. Harney, the originator of ragtime music from which jazz and modern syncopation was derived…”

At the height of his fame, Ben Harney was of such importance in New York that he was permitted to ‘desecrate’ the sacred confines of the Metropolitan opera house with his ragtime piano playing on the same program with Lillian Russell and other noted stars giving a benefit performance there.” For a time Ben R. Harney was among the highest paid head liners in vaudeville.