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Mike Montgomery


All of us at the AMRF are still reeling after the sudden and unexpected loss of one of our oldest and dearest friends. Mike Montgomery passed in his sleep sometime after midnight last Tuesday, June 22, 2011. He was 77 years young.

Mike was a world renowned authority on ragtime, early blues and jazz, and particular on piano rolls; he discovered a barn full of them as a teenager growing up in Chicago and was immediately smitten. Mike produced some 26 LPs and CDs, wrote liner notes for many more, and contributed hundreds of scholarly lectures and articles. You’d be hard pressed to find a CD or book or anything in any media published in the last 50 years having to do with ragtime that does not acknowledge Mike’s contributions.

To call him a “Scholar” however doesn’t do him justice. Mike was a Sage.  More than just knowledgeable, he was wise and enlightened, and since music was his avocation rather than vocation he led with his head and heart rather than his wallet.  Mike was more interested in sharing than he was with taking credit, content that his extraordinary contributions simply be disseminated whether acknowledged in a “Special Thanks” section or a footnote or not at all. He went out of his way to share his discoveries; a friend in Ann Arbor reminisced about how Mike showed up out of the blue one day bearing an envelope filled with information about the history of the building he lived in, hooting with delight as he revealed its contents.  All of us who knew and worked with Mike have similar stories.

Mike and AMRF Founder and President Ron Harwood were close friends and colleagues for many decades. Mike rarely missed a Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival, and his research provides fundamental underpinnings for the book on Sippie Wallace and the Thomas family that Ron is writing with the AMRF’s John Penney. Mike continued to make significant contributions until his tragic death. He was a regular visitor at Ron’s offices, where he was well known and well loved. “Make sure to bring Mike by to say ‘Hi’” was a common request.

At Mike’s Memorial one man tearfully recounted how his father had died when he was a youngster, and how Mike had become, in a very real sense, a father to him.  He went on to say that, after he had given a tearful and mournful eulogy for his father, Mike pulled him aside. “You are speaking in a minor key,” Mike told him. “You need to speak in a major key.” How brilliant, how Mike…

Though for many of us Mike Montgomery’s passing is almost more than we can bear, we can take some solace in the joy and wisdom he shared and that enriched our lives. That we could count him a friend is more than a precious thing, and when we speak of him, and sing of him, it will always be in a major key.

AMRF News  History  Piano Rolls  


  • We called him "The Encyclopedia Montgomrica." This is a terrible loss....more
    - [piano]

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