By Michael Hofer

© 2001

Early Banjo Groundbreakers

Vess Ossman

Vess Ossman

Whistling Rufus
(Real Player Is needed for his file)

In the 20th century Americas first and by far the most prestigious banjo player of his time was Vess Ossman.
Ossman, Vess [Sylvester] Louis (born Hudson NY 21 August 1868; Died Fairmount MN, 7 December 1923). American Ragtime Banjoist. He began studing the banjo at age twelve and by 1896 was recording for Victor. Columbia, Berliner and Edison. He extended his popularity by accompaning Arthur Collins, a leading popular singer.
Vess made concert tours of England in 1900 and 1903, when he played for King Edward the VII; he also preformed for President Theodore Roosevelt. Ossman formed various recording groups, usually consisting of banjo, mandolin and harp guitar
The most popular band was the Ossman-Dudley Trio (with Audley Dudley, mandolin, Roy Butin, Harp-guitar; its recording of "St Louis Tickle" (1906, Vic.) ,as particularly successful. After 1910 Ossman preferred to travel with his groups a distance from eastern recording centers, and made extended stays in both Indianapolis and Dayton Ohio. He consequently recorded less frequently - his last disk was made in 1917 and his position in the recording world then passed to Fred Van Eps. Ossman however, was the leading ragtime banjoist at a time when the five string banjo was preferred to the piano for recording purposes. He had an especially clean technique and a flare for syncopation, emphasizing strong two-step rythyms in his playing. One sf his last and best recordings, his arrangement of Tom Turpin's "Buffalo Rag" (1906), remained in the Victor Catalog until 1925.

Be sure to check out the link on Fred Van Eps name for a good bio on him, a new window will open for that.


U. Walsh: "Sylvester Louis Ossman the Banjo King, Hobbies Magazine (1948), Sept 32-3; (1948), Oct. 36-39, Nov. 31-32, (1949) Jan. 31-32, Feb. 34-5
D.A. Jasen: Disc notes, Kings of Ragtime Banjo Yazoo 1044
D.A. Jansen: Recorded Ragtime, 1897-1958 (Hamden CT, 1973)
Grove Dictionary sf Music and Musicians second edition No. 18 (2001)

Full Title Yankee doodle Performer Ossman, Vess Physical Description 1 sound disc: analog, 62-76 rpm, 10 in. Type of Material sound recording Place of Publication New York, NY Publisher E. Berliner's Gramophone Date Published 1897 Subjects Patriotic music--United States. Connecticut--State songs. Call Number Berliner 465 Library Code DLC Record Identifier loc.natlib.ihas.100000089 Whistling Rufus 1899