As a fund raiser on Memorial  Day in 1975, the Monticello Railway Museum hosted the first of 12 World Championship Old-time Piano Playing Contest editions that took place in that small town, located about halfway between Champaign and Decatur, Illinois. For 11 of those years, the contest took place on the rear platform of an old railroad caboose to the delight of hundreds of folks in lawn chairs, more in bleachers and even some perched atop box cars to get a better view.

The last year it took place in Monticello was the same day as Hands Across America and lots of folks suspected there’d be traffic problems and stayed away. Others were deterred by a chill breeze and cloudy skies with sprinkles of rain as the wind swept over the high school football field, pressed into service in anticipation of bigger crowds. Consequently, 1986 was the year we decided to take our event, which had expanded to two days with afterglow parties, inside.

after-the-contest-everybody-grabbed-their-chairs-and-went-home

Our first contestant in 1975 showed up on a day that was hot and sweaty and would eventually be plagued by tornadoes nearby, forcing the contest into a baggage car with a back-up piano. Four contestants showed up but so did about 40 spectators. By year two, we were down to three contestants, but a much bigger audience and the third year, about 600 came to watch, boosted by our champ’s appearance on the Mike Douglas show in Cleveland OH. After reading about her in a newspaper story in Chicago which was picked up by the wire services, the show flew her there for an appearance that also had Bob Hope and Jethro Tull’s singer Ian Anderson. She was thrilled, we were thrilled and we wound up with a dozen contestants.

dorothy-m-herrold-laporte-in-1st-3-time-champ

Our champ for the first two years was Joybelle Squibb, a golf-playing granny from Vandalia IL, but a retired school teacher who got into playing full-time after her husband died, beat her in 1977. And, Dorothy M. Herrold of LaPorte IN won three times in a row through 1979, our first of several three-time winners.

By 1987, we were ensconced in the Holiday Inn on the west side of Decatur IL, and our stay there lasted until our move to Peoria in the late 90s. We spent two years with the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel after a long stretch at the Hotel Père Marquette, which closed for renovation. When the Four Points suddenly closed, the Peoria Convention and Visitors Bureau came to our rescue and we moved to the Embassy Suites for a few years.

Through the years, the contest expanded from a one-afternoon affair where everybody picked up their lawn chair when the last tune was played and went to take a train ride. The first addition was a party afterward, with the first one held at Shakeys Pizza Parlor in Champaign IL. Everybody spent the next 5 hours eating, drinking and singing along with the piano players. Having the event at a hotel solved the problem of lodging for those coming in for both days and also gave us rooms for the afterglows with food service thrown in.

Since its inception as a fundraiser for the Monticello Railway Museum in 1975, the World Championship Old-time Piano Playing Contest and Festival sought to educate the general public about Ragtime melodies and other popular music written prior to 1930, at the end of the “Roaring 20s.” Standard tunes, waltz tunes, Joplin tunes, railroad tunes, simple or complex, melodic or chaotic, humorous or mournful—they’re all equal when performed before a cheering crowd of admirers.

Now, the contest has entered a new stage, leaving Illinois for a new home at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, befriended by the music department and previous contest judge Ian Hominick.

Past Winners

REGULAR DIVISION –

  • Joybelle Squibb 1975 and 1976
  • Dorothy M. Herrold* 1977 to 1979
  • Bruce Petsche 1980
  • Mark Haldorson* 1981 to 1983
  • Janet Kaizer 1984 and 1985
  • Ron Trotta* 1986 to 1988
  • Julie McClarey 1989, 1995 and 1996
  • Marty Mincer 1990 and 1993
  • “Perfessor” Bill Edwards 1991
  • Paul Gronemeier 1992
  • Mimi Blais 1994 and 2000
  • Brian Holland* 1997 to 1999
  • Dan Mouyar2001 and 2003
  • Adam Downey 2002
  • Adam Yarian* 2004 to 2006
  • Ethan Uslan* 2007, 2012, 2014
  • Adam Swanson* 2008 to 2010, 2015
  • Martin Spitznagel 2011
  • Russell Wilson 2013
  • William McNally 2016 & 2017
  • Your Name Here 2018, Apply Today!

– JUNIOR DIVISION –

  • Neil Moe* 1985 to 1987
  • Dax Baumgartner* 1988 to 1990
  • Adam Downey* 1991 to 1993
  • Marty Sammon 1994 and 1995
  • Dan Mouyar1996
  • Noah Harmon 1997
  • Adam Yarian* 1998 to 2000
  • Harrison Wade 2001 and 2005
  • Will Best 2002
  • Adam Swanson* 2003, 2004 and 2006
  • Wesley Reznicek 2007 & 2009
  • Cassidy Gephart 2008
  • Morgan Siever 2010 and 2011
  • Isaac Smith 2013
  • Daniel Souvigny* 2012, 2014 and 2015
  • Nina Freeman 2016
  • Nathan Beasley 2017
  • Your Name Here 2018, Apply Today!

– DUET  CONTEST 

– NEW RAG  CONTEST 

  • Gale Foehner1997 Carondelet
  • Mimi Blais1998 The Turkey
  • Michael Stalcup1999 Short Mountain, Falldown
  • Dan Mouyard2000 Mojos Marbles
  • Bill Edwards2001The Necromancer, & 2002 The Wiener Schnitzel
  • David Feurzeig2003 Stride-Rite Rag
  • Ted Lemen2004The Last Rag, Standing, & 2005 The Number 2 Rag
  • John Harmon2006 The Raspberry Rag
  • Martin Spitznagel2007 Red Elephant Rag, & 2011 The Smoky Rose
  • Bill McNally2008 Blue Donkey Rag, & 2009 Mocha Monkey Rag, & 2012 Fancy Flight
  • Jacob Adams2010 Procrastinaporag
  • Adam Swanson2013 Strater Shuffle
  • Vincent Matthew Johnson2014 …And So Fourth
  • David Cavalari – 2015 That 45 RPM Rag
  • Bill Edwards – 2016 Le Syncope du Papillon
  • Martin Spitznagel – 2017 Dreams of Irene & Jacob Adams – 2017 Quintessential Rag
  • Be the Next Winner 2018, Apply Today!

Support

The contest’s budget for prize money, trophies, and other expenses to stage the contest is supported by the admission fees we charge during our contest weekend and through the contributions of our friends and members. And, it also depends on many other contributors, large and small, who appreciate the music and want to lend a hand. Click here to find out how you can help.