Biographies May Aufderheide, 1888-1972

Image: Cover of the Blue Ribbon Rag
Blue ribbon rag by May Aufderheide (Indianapolis, Ind.: J.F. Aufderheide, 1910). Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

The participation of women in the world of ragtime should not come as a great surprise. May Aufderheide was perhaps the most famous woman to pen rags. A finishing school graduate, she was born in Indianapolis in May 1890. She learned to play the classics on the piano from her aunt May Kolmer, a noted musician, and was treated to the best music Europe had to offer when her parents took her on the traditional "grand tour."

Despite a serious grounding in art music, Aufderheide turned her attentions to ragtime. Her first rag, "Dusty," was published in 1908, the same year that she wed Thomas Kaufman. The early years of her marriage inspired a series of other compositions, among them "The Richmond Rag," "The Thriller Rag," and the "Novelty Rag."

By the 1920s, however, Aufderheide had stopped composing. Problems with an alcoholic husband and a deeply troubled adopted child allowed her no time or peace for artistic activities. After their deaths in the late 1950s, crippling arthritis and a series of strokes made it impossible for her to return to the piano. Aufderheide died in California in September 1972.

Selected Works at the Library of Congress