Ragtime is a musical style created by black people in the late 1800s. Ragtime existed long before it was even given the name “ragtime”. By the turn of the century, the term “ragtime” had a whole meaning. It was defined as a performance style and practices applied to composing and playing popular song, dance, and instrumental music. Ragtime was popular from 1896-1920. 


Una Winifred Atwell was born during the time ragtime had reached its peak popularity. She was a Trinidadian pianist very popular in Britain and Australia in the 1950s,  most famous for her ragtime hits. At the peak of her career, Una Winifred Atwell was a ragtime icon and one of the highest paid stars in Australia and the United Kingdom.


Una Winifred Atwell

Born and raised in Trinidad, Una Winifred Atwell started her career as a pharmacist but later quit to pursue a career in music, which was a longtime dream of hers. She moved to the United States to get her big break and study under famous pianist, Alexander Borovsky. She eventually began studying at London’s Royal Academy of Music. She finally got her big break with her song “Black and White Rag”. She decided to record the song on a 70 year old piano because when she heard it on a new grand piano she didn’t think it sounded right. The 70 year old piano became the key instrument in her music and it travelled with her everywhere she went. She became extremely popular in the 1950s before rock and roll took over, the obsession with this energetic genre of music launched Atwell to stardom.

Achievements & Beyond

In 1969, Una Winifred Atwell was awarded Trinidad and Tobago’s national award, the Gold Hummingbird Medal, for her achievements in music. Aside from her musical accomplishments, Una Winifred Atwell dedicated her life to being an activist. She advocated against racism in every country she ever lived in, including Aboriginal rights in Australia. She was able to exceed the racism of the ‘White Australia’ era to become one of the greatest ragtime pianists of her time. Una Winifred Atwell suffered a stroke in 1980 and later passed in 1983 after she suffered a heart attack. Her legacy will continue to live on as the greatest black, female ragtime pianist of her time.

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