World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest Celebrates 50 Years

May 23-26 event to feature special guests and silent movie screening

A woman wearing a black dress plays a piano on a stage.

OXFORD, Miss. – One of the nation's premier celebrations of ragtime, traditional jazz and blues piano music, the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival marks its 50th anniversary this year at the University of Mississippi, the event's host since 2016.

From May 23 to 26, contestants ages 11 to 83 will converge on Oxford from across the U.S., as well as Great Britain, France and Japan, vying for trophies, medallions and a record $10,000 in cash prizes. More than 30 contestants are set to participate this year.

"If you love ragtime, jazz, blues, honky-tonk, boogie or novelty songs from the 'Tin Pan Alley' era, you'll have the time of your life in Oxford this Memorial Day weekend," said Ian Hominick, UM professor of music. "It's four fun-filled days of fabulous music where there's truly something for everyone to enjoy."

Ted Lemen, founder of the Old-Time Piano Playing Contest, is set to emcee and perform at this year's event. Submitted photo

This commemorative anniversary event will feature founder Ted Lemen as emcee of three of the four primary contests: the junior division for contestants 18 and under, regular division, and senior division for ages 60 and older. Pianist Bobby Van Deusen will emcee the New Rag Contest for new ragtime compositions.

Special guests include jazz icon Judy Carmichael, host of National Public Radio's "Jazz Inspired," along with guitarist Larry Koonse; award-winning entertainer Todd Robbins, "Investigation Discovery Channel" host and magician; pianist Bill Perry Jr.; and the only four-time champion, Adam Swanson, who has performed at music festivals worldwide and serves as co-emcee for the event.

Reflecting on the contest's impact over the past 50 years, Lemen said it has helped launch the careers of many acclaimed musicians, such as two-time junior champion Marty Sammon. Sammon ultimately went on to tour with blues legend Buddy Guy before Sammon's death in 2022.

Judy Carmichael, host of National Public Radio’s 'Jazz Inspired,' is one of this year's special guests at the Old-Time Piano Playing Contest. Submitted photo

"Marty actually mentored Daniel Souvigny, a three-time junior champion who went on to replace him in Buddy's band," he said.

"One of our champions, Russell Wilson, plays for the Marine band at the White House. Meteorologist Ron Trotta won three times in a row – he was 'New York's musical TV weatherman' before he retired. There are so many stories like these."

Besides the competitions, the festival will offer workshops, a silent movie luncheon with live musical accompaniment, catered affairs with live music and nightly after-hours events with diverse live music at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center.

Hominick, who is artistic director and local coordinator of the competition, said he is particularly excited about this year's special guests.

"We have an incredible roster of artists joining us to celebrate this milestone," he said. "It's a rare opportunity to experience such an incredible array of talent all in one place."

All-event passes, day passes and individual tickets are available online and at the door.


Staff Report



May 18, 2024