Saturday, November 4, 2017

Henry Ragas

Henry W. Ragas was one of the innovators of jazz. He was one of the original members of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band playing piano with the group including on the very first jazz record which was released in February 1917.

Henry was born in November 1891 to Hypolite and Emily Ragas in New Orleans, Louisiana. At the turn of the Century, his father was working as a motorman.

He learned his trade playing solo piano from about 1910 to 1913, playing piano professionally by his late teens. On March 1, 1916 he traveled with with Johnny Stein's Band to Chicago with Nick LaRocca, Alcide Nunez, Eddie Edwards, and of course Johnny Stein. It was while performing in Chicago to such acclaim that LaRocca, Edwards, Ragas and Nunez wanted Stein to break his contract so they could get a more lucrative gig elsewhere. Stein refused and the argument that ensued ended with Edwards punching Stein in the nose and the four jumping ship.

Henry's health began a slow decline as he began drinking heavily due to family issues. He couldn't make it to performance dates which led LaRocca to send him home to New Orleans for a break. His intention was to let Henry sort things out at home. The break was short lived and he returned to New York.

Just two days before the band was depart for their tour of England, Henry Ragas died of the Spanish flu on February 18, 1919 at Bellevue Hospital in New York. He was just 27 years old.

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