Old-time piano playing contest celebrates 50th anniversary

Published 12:45 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Contestants of all ages will be converging on Oxford to vie for trophies and cash prizes totaling a record $10,000 at the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest this May.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary this year, the event has been held at the University of Mississippi since 2016. It will be emceed by founder Ted Lemen May 23-26, 2024 at the exclusive indoors off-campus venue at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center on the corner of University Ave. and S. 14th Street.

Since its inception as a fundraiser for the Monticello, Ill., Railway Museum in 1975, the contest has hosted more than 1,200 piano contestants from across the country and abroad.

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Held annually to coincide with Memorial Day weekend, the event boasts the largest, most comprehensive competitive events for pianists steeped in the musical genres of ragtime, traditional jazz and blues.

There are four primary contests:

  • A New Rag Contest for aspiring composers premiering new ragtime compositions
  • A Junior Division featuring pianists ages 18-and-under
  • The Regular Division for the seasoned performers
  • The Senior Division for those pianists more 60 years of age.

Special guests this year include the following:

  • Jazz icon Judy Carmichael, host of NPR’s Jazz Inspired, along with guitarist Larry Koonse
  • Award-winning entertainer Todd Robbins, Investigation Discovery Channel host and magician
  • Three-time champion Julie McClarey, a veteran of Branson and Nashville musical venues
  • The only four-time champion, Adam Swanson, who has performed at music festivals worldwide and serves as co-emcee for the event.

In addition to the contests, there are workshops, various catered events with live music -including a Silent Movie Luncheon – and after-hours events each evening featuring lots of pianists as well as big band music.

Love ragtime, jazz, blues, honky-tonk, boogie or novelty songs from the days of Tin Pan Alley? Then you’ll have the time of your life in Oxford on Memorial Day weekend.

For a fun-filled four days of fabulous music, visit www.oldtimepianocontest.com and purchase tickets for this year’s championship. Find them on Facebook for regular updates.

All-event tickets, day passes and individual event tickets are available for purchase online from the event website and at the door, as space permits.

To capture the flavor of this event, visit the organization’s YouTube Channel for past performances. Questions can be directed to the artistic director Ian Hominick at (662) 801-2251 or oldtimepianocontest@olemiss.edu.