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MMD > Archives > February 2009 > 2009.02.24 > 01Prev  Next

Lemuel Fowler, Piano Roll Artist
By Randolph Herr

Jazz fans know that Lemuel Fowler was a young black man who appeared
suddenly in the 1920's, made many piano rolls as well as 78 RPM
phonograph records, and then seemed to vanish just as suddenly.  He
still has a large following as he was an incredibly talented composer
and pianist.

I recently visited an old timer who had five photographs lying on
top of his roll cabinet; he said that Max Kortlander gave them to him.
There were two of Phil Ohman, one of Nat Shilkret, one that I cannot
identify, and the last was of a young black man.  As soon as saw it,
I said to myself "That's Lem Fowler" but how could I recognize him if
so few photos survive?

This exact photo was used in an ad that Mike Montgomery found and
reproduced as the front of an vinyl LP.  In it, QRS made an announcement
that "The characteristic music of the Negro race would be made available
for the Player Piano, and recorded by artists of their own people, thus
insuring authoritative interpretations."  Yow, what a sentence!

QRS decorated the ad with seven tiny photos of Black pianists: James
P. Johnson, Thomas Waller, Luckeyth Roberts, Clarence Johnson, Clarence
Williams, J. Lawrence Cook and Lemuel Fowler.  The problem is that
because the original ad was printed on cheap newsprint stock, the photos
of the men are barely recognizable.  Nevertheless, the photo of Fowler
that I found is exactly the same one as in the ad.  Fortunately, my
copy is an 8 by 10 glossy in perfect condition, and looks as though it
could have been taken yesterday.

In going through the MMD Archives, there is not a single listing for
Lem Fowler, and a search on Google pointed to a CD that had been issued
in the past few years.  On the cover is a photo of Fowler that is
different from mine, and it is also in terrible shape.  I will try to
scan the photos and send them to MMD so you can see them for yourselves.
Still, if anyone has seen a good photograph of Fowler, please write to
MMD and let me know where it is.

Randolph Herr

 [ BluesTone Music Rolls offers recuts of piano rolls played by Lem Fowler
 [ for U.S. Music and QRS, visit 
 [ -- Robbie

(Message sent Tue 24 Feb 2009, 16:04:03 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Artist, Fowler, Lemuel, Piano, Roll

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