Louis Chauvin Ragtime Great – Death At 27, In 1908

Louis Chauvin was born in St. Louis Missouri on March 13, 1881, and died at 27 years, 13 days old on March 26, 1908. He was a popular and well-known ragtime piano player, so talented and such a showman that he was considered the best pianist in St. Louis for several years at the beginning of the century. His life was a battle with adverse circumstances from the start, as his father was a Mexican Indian and his mother was an African-American. His legacy unfortunately relies mostly on hearsay and first person reports, since he never recorded and only published 3 compositions in his lifetime. He is remembered for a cowriting credit with Scott Joplin on the Heliotrope Bouquet Rag.

Chicago was enjoying his musical gifts when he died there in 1908. The official cause of death was listed as multiple sclerosis with a syphilitic origin, but modern medical scholarship has changed that diagnosis to neurosyphilitic sclerosis. Clearly the ultimate reason for such an early demise was a life spent in the underbelly of society, and also spent chasing all-too human addictions. His body is interred in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis Missouri.

Ragtime music was the rock and roll of its day. From the final years of the 19th century through the end of the first world war in 1918, ragtime was very popular in sheet music form, and in live performances. Mostly a solo piano genre, Scott Joplin is the most well-known composer and performer of the bouncy, syncopated, melodic form. It started off as dance music played in brothels and barrooms in African-American sections of St. Louis and New Orleans. After several years, its popularity grew and it became more widely known by the general populace. After jazz became the thing in the 20s, ragtime fell out of public favor, but there have been several modern revivals. The movie The Sting brought Joplin’s compositions back into the limelight, and aficionados have over the years recorded nearly every rag ever written in the modern digital age.

Because the origin of the music is in somewhat lower class, sleazy and sordid environs, it always had a racy reputation, at least up until more liberal, modern times. Each performer had his own following, and would play as the house musician for patrons of clubs and red light districts. As their fame grew, they would attract bigger crowds, and become minor celebrities. But the culture they worked in was a rough one, where violence, substance abuse, and promiscuity were normal behaviors. It’s no wonder then that Chauvin fell victim to similar patterns of hard living and poor judgment that would claim the lives of other famous musicians more than half a century in the future.


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