Julia Niebergall is one of the most influential women in ragtime. Her independence led to the drive of following her passion in piano rag. She not only created a few piano rag pieces, but she also shared her passion with others through teaching.
On February 15, 1886, George and Minnie Niebergall gave birth to Julia Lee Niebergall in Indiana. Julia had a younger brother named Herbert and a younger sister named Mayme. Ms. Niebergall’s father, George, had a musical background of playing the double bass every so often with the Indianapolis Philharmonic and also with the Fred Turner Orchestra. Her brother Herbert was claimed to be a percussionist and Mayme even took a few piano lessons from Julia. Niebergall developed a friendship with famous ragtime composer May Aufderheide.
In 1905, Julia’s first rag piano solo “Clothilda” was published by Carlin and Lennox. It is said that this piece was originally labeled as a march due to the syncopations implemented.It was later thought of as a piano rag when the cakewalk rhythms in the piano solo were considered. A couple of years later, Niebergall’s success took a turn for the best with the piano rag “Hoosier Rag” in Detroit, Michigan. Although her independent career as a musician did not last much longer, Julia published two more piano rag solos. It was known that she eventually became an arranger for J.H. Aufderheide music publisher.
Julia taught at Manual High School periodically during the 1910’s and 1920’s.When she was not teaching, she thoroughly enjoyed playing for movies at Colonial Theatre, ballet and gym classes, and so much more. In the mid 1920’s she was teaching piano and music theory at Athenaeum. Shortly after her father passed from a stroke, Julia relocated to Bloomington, Indiana to teach music at Indiana University. She later retired in 1966.
Julia Lee Niebergall passed away on October 19, 1968. However, her legacy remains alive through the history of women in ragtime. Because of individuals like historian Max Morath who share the stories of musicians such as Julia, her work does not go unnoticed. Ms. Niebergall was and still is a prime example of what it takes to achieve hard work through your passion.