Mike Bernard (musician)

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Mike Bernard
Ragtime Pianist Mike Bernard Portrait.gif
Mike Bernard
Michael Barnet Brown

March 17, 1875
DiedJune 27, 1936(1936-06-27) (aged 61)
OccupationRagtime Pianist
Years active1895–1936
Spouse(s)May Agnes Convery (1898–1911)

Florence "Flo" Courtney (1914–1916)

Katherine "Kitty" Stapleton (1919–1936)

Mike Bernard (né Michael Barnet Brown; March 17, 1875 – June 27, 1936) was an American musician who influenced the development of ragtime-era music.[1][2]


A musical child prodigy born in New York City, Michael Barnet Brown was the son of decorator and wallpaper dealer Julius S. Brown and his wife Eva Eisenberg. He had one older brother, Harry, born in 1873.[note 1][3][4] Michael studied at the Berlin Conservatory and once reportedly played before the Kaiser. At age twenty-one, back in New York, he heard Ben Harney (the self-proclaimed "inventor of ragtime") perform, and decided to compete against him. He soon became known as one of the best ragtime performers in the country, billing himself as the "Rag Time King of the World." A white musician with little exposure to the African-American roots of ragtime, he pioneered a style of music that appealed to the public but is often derided by purists as "pseudo-ragtime." He was one of the first to record ragtime piano styles, working for Columbia Records starting in 1912.

While he played in vaudeville pretty much continuously from the late 1890s through the late 1910s, his style mostly fell out of favor by the onset of the jazz age. He was considered for a spot with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1918 after pianist Henry Ragas died in the Spanish influenza outbreak, but the job ended up going to J. Russell Robinson.[5] Mike still managed to work in increasingly smaller venues through the 1920s, last performing at Bill's Gay Nineties in Manhattan just weeks before his death.[6]

His style, flashy and fast, influenced the white ragtime composers of Tin Pan Alley but was often looked down upon by the admirers of the "genuine ragtime" that issued from African-American communities. Artists considered part of the "Mike Bernard school" include Pete Wendling, Lee S. Roberts, Max Kortlander, Frank Banta, Victor Arden, Phil Ohman, Zez Confrey, Charley Straight, and Roy Bargy.


Tony Paster's Theatre (sponsor)[7]

  • January 23, 1900: Winner, Ragtime Piano Contest, Tammany Hall
  • January 30, 1906: Winner, Ragtime Piano Contest
Judges: Charlie Horwitz, Harry Von Tilzer, Gus Edwards[8]

Selected discography[edit]

Mike Bernard (solo piano)

38467-1 (matrix) — "Everybody two-step", by Wallie Herzer; OCLC 4536144
Reissues (i) Vintage Jazz Mart (Europe) VLP2 & (ii) Smithsonian Folkways RF24
Recorded in New York City December 2, 1912
38466 (matrix) — "Battle of San Juan Hill", composed by Mike Bernard; OCLC 4536129
Recorded in New York City, probably December 2, 1912
38465-1 (matrix) — "Fantasy on Pilgrims' Chorus from Tannhauser", "Finale to Rubinstein's E Flat Concerto"; OCLC 84340026
Recorded in New York City December 2, 1912
38474-1 (matrix) — "Fantasy On Mendelssohn's Spring Song", "Rubinstein's Melody In F"; OCLC 84487091
Recorded in New York City December 4, 1912
38472-1 (matrix) — "That Peculiar Rag", by Barney Fagan; OCLC 807049659
Recorded in New York City December 3, 1912
38478 (matrix) — "Medley Of Ted Snyder's Hits"; OCLC 79686914
  1. Intro to "My Sweet Italian", by Irving Berlin
  2. "When The Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Albam' ", by Irving Berlin
  3. "Ragtime Soldier Man", by Irving Berlin
Recorded in New York City, December 4, 1912
Side A: 38829-2 (matrix) — "Maori", A Samoan dance; OCLC 807061655, 82045305
Recorded in New York City, May 8, 1913
Reissues (i) Timeless Records (Netherlands) CBC1-035 (CD)[10]
Side B: 38927-1 (matrix) — "1915 Rag", by Harry Tierney; OCLC 84374803
Recorded in New York City, June 27, 1913
Reissues (i) Smithsonian Folkways RF33 (ii) Timeless Records (Netherlands) CBC1-035 (CD)[10]
38925 (matrix) — "Medley of Berlin Songs"
Recorded in New York City June 27, 1913
38928-1 (matrix) — "Tantalizing Tingles", by Sol Violinsky & Mike Bernard
Reissues (i) Smithsonian Folkways RF23, Vintage Jazz Mart (Europe) VLP2[10]
Recorded in New York City June 27, 1913
Side A: 38475 (matrix) — "A Trip Across The Pond — Introducing Old Irish And Scotch Airs"; OCLC 81589694
Side B: 38828 (matrix) — "Tango Bonita", by Maurice Smith; OCLC 81031671
77780-1 (matrix) — "Blaze Away"; OCLC 77894363
Recorded in New York City April 25, 1918
Reissues (i) Smithsonian Folkways RF23, Timeless Records (Netherlands) CBC1-035[10]
77783 (matrix) — "When Alexander Takes His Ragtime Band To France", "Some One Else May Be There While I'm Gone"; OCLC 77920863
77783-3 (matrix) — "They Were All Out of Step But Jim", by Irving Berlin[10]
Recorded in New York City April 25, 1918


Married three times, he had three sons, one out of wedlock with Ziegfeld Follies girl Dorothy Zuckerman.[11] He also had an intimate relationship with singer Blossom Seeley around 1908 to 1909. Bernard and his first wife, May Convery — with whom there are two marriage certificates in Manhattan: February 25, 1897, and June 7, 1898 — [12] had a son, Melvin Bernard (musician; born 1899). Bertram M. Bernard (lawyer; 1914–1988) was born to Dorothy Zuckerman, but there is no evidence of any marriage to Michael. Julius "Jules" Brown Bernard was born to his third wife, Katherine "Kitty" Stapleton, on October 9, 1921. One other wife, Florence Courtney of the Courtney Sisters, divorced Mike in 1916 after just over two years of marriage, as he was discovered with another female companion, and they were sharing a single pair of pajamas.[note 2][13]


  1. ^ Information collected from 1892 New York state census, Manhattan city directories from the 1870s through 1890s, and two different marriage certificates for Michael Bernard as Michael Brown. Refer to ragpiano.com/comps/mbernard.shtml link for a more detailed explanation
  2. ^ Syndicated article from February 25, 1916, in national newspapers.


  1. ^ They All Played Ragtime, by Rudi Blesh & Harriet Janis, Alfred A. Knopf (1950); OCLC 891125
  2. ^ "Biography: Mike Bernard", by Bill Edwards (né William G. Motley; born 1959), ragpiano.com Website administrator: Bill Edwards
  3. ^ "Julius Brown, et al." 1880 US Census, Enumeration district 44 (Manhattan), New York City, New York County, NARA microfilm publication T9
  4. ^ "Julius Brown, et al." (surname indexed as "Bromm"), 1900 US Census, Enumeration district 35 (Manhattan), Borough of Manhattan, Election District 18, New York City, Ward 2, image 2 of 33; citing NARA microfilm publication T623
  5. ^ They All Played Ragtime and Notes for TAPR by Rudi Blesh
  6. ^ New York Times advertisement, June 13, 1936
  7. ^ "Rag-Time Piano Players in Training To Contest For the Championship Police Gazette Medal", National Police Gazette, Vol. 75, No. 1170, January 20, 1900, pg. 6
  8. ^ "All Had Their Hammers Out at the Tony Paster Ball", The Morning Telegraph, February 1, 1906
  9. ^ The Columbia Master Book Discography (Vol. 2 of 4), by Brian Rust & Tim Brooks, Greenwood Press (1999); OCLC 40693820
  10. ^ a b c d e TJD Online, Tom Lord (ed.), Chilliwack, Canada: Lord Music Reference Inc. (retrieved 16 April 2014); OCLC 182585494, 690104143
  11. ^ New York birth certificate for Bertram Bernard dated January 22, 1914, plus later recollections from Bertram on his father.
  12. ^ Mary Convery & Michael Brown, Manhattan, New York, Brides Index, Brides Italian Genealogical Group (www.italiangen.org), maintained by John Martino, Huntington, New York
  13. ^ "'Mike' Bernard Shared Pajamas with Correspondent 'Fifty-Fifty'", New York Herald, February 12, 1916