Ossman, Vess L. (actually, Sylvester Louis)

views updated

Ossman, Vess L. (actually, Sylvester Louis)

Ossman, Vess L. (actually, Sylvester Louis), American ragtime banjo player; b. Hudson, N.Y., Aug. 21, 1868; d. Fairmont, Minn., Dec. 8, 1923. The leading ragtime musician on records, billed as the King of the Banjo, Ossman began his recording career with a string of major hits at the dawn of the recording era, including “Yankee Doodle” (1894), “Coconut Dance” (1895), and “A Hot Time on the Levee” (1896), the last with singer Len Spencer. His signature tune was his own “A Bunch of Rags” (1899). (It was his good fortune that the banjo recorded particularly well on the earliest recording equipment.)

Ossman’s records brought him international fame: he toured England to acclaim in 1900 and 1903. He also recorded with the Dudley brothers, George (harp-guitar) and Audley (mandolin), as the Ossman-Dudley Trio. Their hits included “St. Louis Tickle” (1906) and “Panama Rag Two-Step” (1907).

Ossman continued to score hits through 1912, his final popular recordings being accompaniments of Arthur Collins on “When Uncle Joe Plays a Rag on His Old Banjo” and “In Ragtime Land.” At the time of his death he was on tour with his son, also named Vess Ossman. They were billed as the Ossmans, World’s Great Banjo Players. The younger Ossman went on to form the vaudeville duo Ossman and Schepp with Rex Schepp, performing into the 1930s.

—William Ruhlmann