Features and Reviews
In Memoriam: Ragtime Bob Darch
By Bill Mitchell
Just as we were about to go to press we received word via an Internet message that Robert Russell Darch died on Sunday, October 20, 2002 in Springfield, Missouri. Better known as "Ragtime Bob," he was one of the most active and influential of the post war ragtime revivalists. By mid century, Darch, along with people like Max Morath, Johnny Maddox, and Wally Rose, were enthusiastically proselytizing for ragtime and exploring its history.
Darch was one of those truly itinerant pianists, traveling as far as Alaska with his beloved "Five Pedal Cornish Upright Saloon Grand Piano." He was for many years based in Virginia City, Nevada, where he performed regularly and had his own publishing company for his original ragtime numbers, often "Musical vignettes of and about Virginia City," bearing such titles as "Delta Saloon Rag," "A Comstock Disturbance," "A Sawdust Corner Delight," and "Calico Queens." I have in my collection one called "Opera House Rag," which commemorates the famous Piper's Opera House. The sheet music states: "By Robert R. Darch, arranged by Joseph F. Lamb."
In addition to playing and composing, Darch was a tireless researcher, and interviewed such ragtime pioneers as Percy Wenrich, Eubie Blake, Arthur Marshall, Joe Jordan, and Charlie Thompson. He obtained the manuscript of James Scott's unpublished "Calliope Rag" from one of Scott's sisters, and made it available to be printed in the third edition of They All Played Ragtime in 1966. He produced a wonderful LP record in 1963 which featured Eubie Blake, Joe Jordan, and Charles Thompson, entitled "Golden Reunion in Ragtime," which included interviews and live performances featuring solo and trio performances.
I heard "Ragtime Bob" at the 1983 Sedalia Scott Joplin Festival, where it seemed to me he was the most popular performer in town. He had played Sedalia several times before, and, based on the attendance at his concert in Liberty Park, he had obviously built up an enthusiastic local following.
Darch had apparently been active until very recently, as Bill Edwards, who reported his death, heard him perform in Springfield on Labor Day. So we say farewell to Ragtime Bob, who made ragtime his life's work, and did an outstanding job!