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Harry P. Guy - Biography

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Harry P. Guy Harry P. Guy, pianist, composer and Ragtime performing artist lived from 1870 to 1950. On Saturday, October 11, 2003, a headstone was placed on his grave in Detroit’s historic Elmwood Cemetery. In 1895 Harry P settled in Detroit where he pursued a significant but nearly forgotten career as a musician. He died in Detroit in 1950. Noted musicologist, Arthur LaBrew has researched and written much of what is known about Harry P. Guy.

Born in Zanesville Ohio, July 17, 1870 Guy studied piano, violin and organ at an early age. Moving to Cincinnati sometime in the 1880s he continued to study music and worked as an accompanist for several performing groups including the Cincinnati Opera Club. In 1887 his efforts as a composer finally paid – off with the publishing of his first work: “The Floweret Waltz” by Ilson & Co. By 1890 he had moved to New York to study at the National Conservatory of Music. Cellist Victor Herbert was one of his professors. While in New York Guy immersed himself in the musical life of the Black community, opening a piano studio, and performing in concerts, including an appearance at Carnegie Hall. It is during this time he also accompanied the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

After completing studies at the Conservatory, Harry P left a teaching position at Paul Quinn College in Waco, Texas to follow a certain young lady (Julia Owens) to Detroit. Detroit was host to many of the best vaudeville shows, and concerts series of the time making it a good place for him to hone and ply his considerable musical talent and skill. He played in the Finney Orchestra, the Detroit City Band, and conducted a small ensemble of his own.

For more than 10 years Guy was the Music Minister at St. Matthew Episcopal Church in Detroit. At St. Matthew he created an enviable musical environment and was instrumental in starting a boy’s choir. He also founded the first African American Music Academy in Detroit.

It is said that the premiere Ragtime performers of the day came to Detroit to play with Harry P. Guy. With a reputation as an excellent pianist, arranger and composer, Guy worked for the leading music publishers of the day. One of those publishers was the Jerome Remick Publishing Company. The Remick Company published sheet music from its offices in Detroit and New York City.

Thanks goes to Detroit jazz pianist, Kenneth Cox and the Societe of the Culturally Concerned who led the campaign to purchase and place the headstone, and for bringing the rich legacy and contribution of Harry P. Guy to 21st century light.

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