Max Morath, Pianist Who Staged a One-Man Ragtime Revival, Dies at 96

Mr. Morath appeared on “The Bell Telephone Hour,” “Kraft Music Hall,” “Today,” “The Tonight Show” and Arthur Godfrey’s radio and television programs. A series of Morath productions — “The Ragtime Years,” “Living the Ragtime Life,” “The Ragtime Man,” “Ragtime Revisited,” and “Ragtime and Again” — opened Off Broadway and were followed by national tours.

“I must have played in 5,000 different places, and many of them were not all that classy,” Mr. Morath said in 2019 in an interview for this obituary. “Mostly they were saloons, and it wasn’t all ragtime either. Some of them were piano bars. When you work a piano bar, you’d better know 1,500 tunes. You’re playing requests. It was Gershwin. Cole Porter. Rodgers and Hart.”

Mr. Morath continued touring until he retired in 2007. By then, he had long been known as “Mr. Ragtime,” the unofficial keeper of America’s ragtime legacy.

Asked for a favorite memory from his life in music, he reached back to his childhood.

“Actually,” he said after a moment’s thought, “it was when I was 7 and I heard my mother play something Joplin wrote, called ‘The Original Rag.’ It was published in Kansas City, and somehow my mother got ahold of it. We had a piano bench full of good stuff, mostly show tunes. But ‘Original Rag’ was my favorite.”

Max Edward Morath was born in Colorado Springs on Oct. 1, 1926, the younger of two sons of Frederic Morath, a real estate broker, and Gladys (Ramsell) Morath. When Max was 4, his parents divorced. His mother became society editor of The Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, and his father went to Europe, remarried and spent his days climbing in the Alps and the Pyrenees.

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