<table><tr><td>From <a href="http://jazz.tulane.edu/">Jazz @ Tulane</a> - by Shane Lief
Among the noteworthy musicians active in New Orleans in the early 1900s, Antonio Maggio remains a dim historical figure, remembered only for a single pioneering composition, “I Got the Blues,” published in 1908. David Lee Joyner identifies Maggio’s work as an “early example of twelve-bar blues in ragtime” that foreshadows W. C. Handy’s famous “St. Louis Blues.”<sup>1</sup> Peter Muir calls it a “milestone in blues history,” as it is the “first known instance in print of the [twelve-bar blues] sequence being associated with the notion of having the blues.”<sup>2</sup> Muir also points to “suggestive parallels” between Maggio’s “I Got the Blues” and Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.”<sup>3</sup> However, any evidence of a direct borrowing is tenuous at best; as Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff observe, more probably “Handy and Maggio were coincidentally attracted to similarly irrepressible ‘snatches’—Handy’s favorite term—of floating folk melody.”<sup>4</sup> In any event, Maggio’s composition had a significant impact on local performing musicians and their audiences, receiving attention as a locally composed “Italian rag.”<sup>5</sup> Other than this achievement, however, Maggio seems not to have played a prominent role in the burgeoning jazz scene of New Orleans, though he has been noted in an article that emphasizes the complex ethnic mixture of the city’s population—especially among its musicians—at the turn of the century.<sup>6</sup> </td><td><img title="Me too" src="http://anarchistnews.org/files/pictures/2012/igottheblues_200.jpg"></td>...
Very little has been discovered about his early musical career, apart from the few facts that surround the genesis of “I Got the Blues.” As Maggio recounted during an interview in 1955, he was inspired by a musician he heard on the levee back in 1907, “an elderly negro with a guitar playing three notes.”<sup>7</sup> Maggio told the story of this tune’s unlikely transformation into sheet music:
<blockquote>He kept repeating the notes for a long time. I didn’t think anything with only three notes could have a title so to satisfy my curiosity I asked what was the name of the piece. He replied, ‘I got the blues.’</blockquote>
<blockquote>I went home. Having this on my mind, I wrote ‘I Got the Blues,’ making the three notes dominating most of the time. The same night our five-piece orchestra played at the Fabaker [sic] restaurant (in New Orleans) ‘I Got the Blues’ which was composed with the purpose of a musical caricature, and to my astonishment became our most popular request number […] I had no intention of publishing it because my interest in music was entirely classical. However, the people’s demand by now was so overwhelming that our first violinist, Barzin (later to play first viola with Toscanini at the Met) persisted until I finally consented to publish 1000 copies for piano, 500 for band and 500 for orchestra which were printed in Cincinatti [sic] by Zimmerman Publishing House. This took place in 1908. The copies were sold in a very short time. I wasn’t interested in another edition for the reason already explained.<sup>8</sup></blockquote>
By tracing a series of events in Maggio’s early adulthood described in archived newspaper articles, we can learn much about the Italian community of New Orleans in the early 1900s, the political climate in New Orleans and the United States at that time, and what kinds of sensibilities drove this musician who created one of the first examples of “commercial blues” sheet music. Regarding political motivations, it is true that some folklorists and jazz historians have been only too ready to ascribe revolutionary fervor to musical practices. In an article written for the Daily Workeron October 21, 1933, for example, Charles Edward Smith identified the “hot element of jazz” as having its “basis in the class struggle.”<sup>9</sup> However, by looking at Maggio’s early career, we can see how class consciousness might indeed inspire a musician participating in the overlapping social worlds of New Orleans over a century ago, during the development of musical practices later associated with jazz.
Born in 1876, in Cefalu, Sicily, Antonio Maggio came to New Orleans in 1892, stayed for a few months, then worked as a barber in Plaquemine, Louisiana.<sup>10</sup> Even in his teens, he was extremely talented in music, a “born musician” according to Dantonio, a barbershop owner in Plaquemine who employed him as a “tonsorialist.”<sup>11</sup> Maggio had a “pleasing tenor voice” and could sing “arias from a number of operas.” In addition, he was “master of the mandolin and guitar,” and “could play any instrument, and some of his cornet solos were charming.” After just a few months in Plaquemine, Maggio was able to organize and lead a professional brass band. He came back to New Orleans in 1896, and again worked as a barber, having the second chair in a “little shop on Common Street, near Rampart.”<sup>12</sup> He was also remembered as the “leader of a trio of amateur musicians, all Italians,” playing guitar and violin, a “familiar figure around the Poydras market,” only occasionally helping his older brother Rosario at his barbershop on St. Philip Street.<sup>13</sup> In 1898, he left New Orleans again, heading north to St. Louis, then Chicago, and played music for a minstrel group and later joined a band that accompanied Hagenbeck’s wild animal show. He worked briefly as a barber in Kansas City. By early 1901, he had joined the Andrews Opera Company, playing the cornet. Soon afterwards, he parted ways with the opera company in Silver City, New Mexico, and spent the next several months playing the violin in dance halls and saloons in southern New Mexico.<sup>14</sup>
We would have very little of this information about Antonio Maggio’s musical career if it weren’t for an extremely unfortunate episode in his life which then took place. While playing with the opera company, sometime in February or March of 1901, on the road between Abilene and El Paso, Texas, Maggio confided to a fellow musician that he was active in an “anarchistic circle” and believed that President William McKinley would soon be assassinated.<sup>15</sup> According to Fritz Huttman, a tenor singer with the same opera company, Maggio told him that “men had already been selected” to kill both McKinley and Emperor Wilhelm of Germany. When McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901, in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, Maggio was suspected to be an accomplice to the assassin Leon Czolgosz, and like Emma Goldman and other political dissidents, he was tracked down as an enemy of the State.
Back in New Orleans, panic quickly rippled through the population, especially within the Italian community, which feared another spasm of violence like the mass lynching of Italians that happened in the wake of Police Chief Hennessey’s assassination a decade earlier. The Italians living in the city were anxious to dispel the notion that they sympathized with any anarchists and made it clear that they were “entirely disposed to aid the authorities in suppressing any anarchist circle if one be found in their midst.”<sup>16</sup> Many locals came forward to help the federal government find the suspected anarchist, including police detective Dantonio, who offered a detailed account of Maggio’s earlier activities in New Orleans.<sup>17</sup> A young Italian girl even provided Maggio’s photo (taken in 1898) to be published in the newspaper.<sup>18</sup> After a nationwide dragnet, Maggio was finally cornered in the mining camp of Santa Rita, New Mexico, and taken into custody by US Marshals on September 9, 1901.<sup>19</sup> For the next several months, he was held under a $10,000 bond and interrogated about his past.<sup>20</sup> When it was finally determined that he had nothing to do with the assassination, he was released in April of the following year.<sup>21</sup>
During this period, a virulent witchhunt consumed the nation, yielding a “nest of anarchists” in Kansas City.<sup>22</sup> Stereotypes of Italian criminality were propagated by newspapers; rumors erupted about Antonio Maggio being lynched.<sup>23</sup> Even his brother Frank, who was then living in Leavenworth, Kansas, when questioned about Antonio’s activities, described Louisiana as a place “where the members of the Mafia were thick.”<sup>24</sup> The dread of anarchism, coupled with perennial xenophobic prejudices, had upended the country, hurling innocent people into detention cells. On September 11, 1901, the New Orleans Daily Picayunepublished a digest of reports from England and Germany bearing the title “How to Deal with Anarchists,” which stated that the question was “now attracting world-wide attention” and that the “teaching of anarchy should be treated as a crime.”<sup>25</sup> The Daily Post, based in London, suggested that even though “certain measures may be taken by the United States on its own account in order to combat this new evil, it would be better if all such measures were adopted in concert by the great powers after an international conference” since there is “certainly solidarity between all nations now that America is no longer outside the circle of its influence.”<sup>26</sup> While some voices called for the mass imprisonment of “philosophic anarchists” and warned against the dangers of “harboring national pests,” others specifically focused on how the United States could lead the way for other nations: “Europe has already done so much to check anarchism that it can now leave the problem to the Americans, who are so eminently practical people, and doubtless will devise means of rooting out the evil in their own country. Europe will look with the greatest interest to the inauguration of such a crusade, and will doubtless learn something to its own advantage.”<sup>27</sup>
Out of these horrific circumstances, in which many people of foreign birth were investigated relentlessly, including Antonio Maggio himself, we have obtained a very detailed portrait of his life and his political beliefs. After being released by federal authorities in 1902, Maggio returned to New Orleans, where he resumed his musical career, playing for a concert band on the excursion steamer Chalmette.<sup>28</sup> An extended interview appeared in the Daily Picayuneon June 23, 1902, in which Maggio disavows any support of assassinations, yet maintains his anarchist political stance:
<blockquote>I believe that the people are the masters. Anarchy is the doctrine of equality and love. It is misunderstood. When the word ‘anarchy’ is used people immediately think of blood and daggers, riot and disorder. Anarchy, to my mind, conveys no such meaning. To me, anarchy stands for the right to live under the same conditions that my fellow-men lives. It means that he is to receive no more than I do for contributing his share to the world’s progress, and that he is entitled to no more than I am.</blockquote>
<blockquote>I am against all government, because governments stand for the rich against the poor. I have read Tolstoi and other well-known writers. I have studied socialism. My beliefs are based on my researches. If I could talk to any man long enough, I could convince him that my beliefs were right.</blockquote>
The newspaper reporter conducted this interview while trying to keep pace with Maggio, who was walking up Canal Street from the river. When they come upon a man lying in the street, “asleep in one of the doorways of the custom-house building,” Maggio takes pity on the inert figure and declares him to be a “victim of the way the world is managed. He is either a poor workman out of a job or a victim of some injustice.” Having seen the inside of a prison cell, Maggio offers a critique of the justice system: “The jail life of to-day is harmful in the extreme. Every man who is sent to jail leaves the place worse than he was at the time of his arrest. Anarchists think that people should be taught to do right rather than be punished for doing wrong.” He also expresses a strong belief in equality between women and men: “I believe that women should be as privileged as are the men. I believe in free love. When a woman gets tired of a man she ought to be entitled to leave him, and the man should be taught to know that she had the right to do this.” Maggio ends the interview as they reach the corner of Chartres and Canal: “I turn off here. I would like to talk to all the people of New Orleans and tell them of what I know. If I could I would convince them all that anarchy was right. I do not speak English well enough to become a public speaker, or I might try to make an address.”<sup>29</sup>
Months after being released, Maggio still found it difficult to keep a low profile: within a year, he was placed “under $100 bonds to keep the peace for six months” for purportedly threatening the life of another musician named Rocco Cardona.<sup>30</sup> But this last tangle with the law seems to have inspired him to be more circumspect about his behavior. Maggio’s name doesn’t resurface in the newspapers until after “I Got the Blues” was published, which was evidently popular in New Orleans for several months in 1908 and 1909. During the Home Manufacturer’s Exhibition, it was included in the double bill of the combined Bankers’ Day and Retail Dealers’ Day, an event which broke “all records for attendance.”<sup>31</sup> On September <sup>26</sup>, 1908, “I Got the Blues” stood out among the other selections on the program as the only one played “by request.”<sup>32</sup> On May 30, 1909, it was listed in the musical program of Emile Tosso’s Military Band at West End.<sup>33</sup>
In the following years, Maggio taught his three children to play music, prompting the New Orleans Statesnewspaper to celebrate them on October 1, 1916, as the “city’s youngest musical family,” with his sons Pascal (six years of age) and Peter (three) playing violins, and his daughter Antoinette (five) playing the harp. While Maggio is described as playing “any kind of music,” he emphasizes that he “disapproves of ragtime for the children,” as though it constituted non-nutritious sound. Their musical instruction represents a continuing family tradition: “He is giving them the benefit of the knowledge of operatic melody which he received in Italy from his father and grandfather, who were distinguished artists in the old country.”<sup>34</sup>
At the same time, Antonio’s brothers Frank and Joseph were prominent musicians in New Orleans. Antonio and Frank both performed in the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra for several years. All three were members of the Musicians’ Union and supported the establishment of a permanent symphony orchestra in the city.<sup>35</sup> Their sister Josephine was married to Joseph Fulco, who was hailed “by news critics and lobby comment [as] the jazz genius of New Orleans” in 1919.<sup>36</sup> In the early 1920s, Joseph Maggio played in Fulco’s Palace Orchestra, after leading his own orchestra some years earlier.<sup>37</sup> Alongside his brothers, Antonio pursued a versatile musical career, singing operatic selections at weddings, playing banjo at a local restaurant, and serving as director of the forty-piece Stella D’Italia Military Band, which often played patriotic songs.<sup>38</sup>
After 1903, the newspapers in New Orleans no longer referred to his criminal record or his political views. By the time that “I Got the Blues” was published, Maggio was, to all outside appearances, working within the parameters of ‘respectable’ opinion and well on the way to achieving a higher social status. One musical event in 1913 perhaps most vividly reflects his changing social position. Leading the Pipitone Band at the anniversary banquet of the Bersaglieri Benevolent Association, Maggio provided the music for a “cordial invitation to all law-abiding citizens of Italy to come to Louisiana and help develop the rich lands abounding in the state,” as expressed by New Orleans Mayor Martin Behrman.<sup>39</sup> The mayor spoke with pride and confidence: “I know the Italian colony of New Orleans […] and know that while they cling to the traditions of the old country, they also revere the Stars and Stripes and [will] eventually be among the best citizens in America.”<sup>40</sup> The public image of Italians was being transformed, and Maggio was performing in harmony with the expectations of his adoptive society.
Looking back at the time when “I Got the Blues” was published, Antonio Maggio described his musical inclinations as “entirely classical,” but the varied musical practices of his earlier days suggestotherwise; as late as 1916, he was still ready to play “any kind of music.” Having played for circuses and minstrel shows, in saloons and in the streets, he was no stranger to different styles. His ears were open to novel sounds. Although he later dismissed it as a “musical caricature,” his composition reflects a pang of curiosity about music created by someone with a vastly different social experience, who told him, “I got the blues.” As a young Italian musician living in New Orleans, for a time still feeling uncertain about his command of English and his place in society, Maggio had also been haunted by the injustice he saw in the world, with all of its murderous results: the assassination of a local authority figure had amplified the fear and hatred expressed towards Italian immigrants, and the assassination of the President of the United States had set in motion an international “crusade” against the “evil” of anarchism. After surviving a turbulent period which could have ended in his destruction—either at the hands of a furious mob or within the punitive mechanisms of a vengeful State—Maggio climbed back out of the shadows of ignominy and worked toward a better life, pausing just long enough on the levee to catch a fascinating combination of notes.
1 David Lee Joyner, “Southern Ragtime and Its Transition to Published Blues” (Ph.D. diss, Memphis StateUniver-sity, 1986), 162.
2 Peter C. Muir, Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America, 1850-1920 (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press,
4 Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, “They Cert’ly Sound Good to Me: Sheet Music, Southern Vaudeville, and the
Commercial Ascendancy of the Blues,” American Music14 (Winter 1996), 405.
5 “Lumber Day at Display,” The New Orleans Item, September 23, 1908.
6 Bruce Boyd Raeburn, “Stars of David and Sons of Sicily: Constellations Beyond the Canon in Early New Orleans
Jazz,” Jazz Perspectives(August 2009): 123-152.
7 “Anthony Maggio,” Overture35 (December 1955): 13.
9 Bruce Boyd Raeburn, New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History(Ann Arbor, MI: University of
Michigan Press, 2009), 29.
10 “Anarchist Maggio,” The Daily Picayune, December 2, 1901; “Local Anarchists are Keeping Quiet,” The Daily Pica-yune, September 9, 1901.
11 “Local Anarchists Are Keeping Quiet.”
13 “Chicago Anarchists Held Without Benefit of Bail,” The Daily Picayune, September 12, 1901; “Antonio Maggio,
The Young Anarchist Now Recalled By Many People,” The Daily Picayune, September 12, 1901.
14 “Anarchist Maggio,” The Daily Picayune, December 2, 1901.
15 “Anarchists Have a Foothold Here,” The Daily Picayune(New Orleans), September 8, 1901.
16 “Local Anarchists Are Keeping Quiet.”
18 “Antonio Maggio, The Young Anarchist Now Recalled by Many People.” This photograph was used to confirm
that this is the same Antonio Maggio of later musical fame.
19 “Antonio Maggio Arrested,” Evening Press(Grand Rapids, MI), September 10, 1901.
20 “Bond Fixed at $10,000,” Montgomery Advertiser(Montgomery, AL), September 26, 1901.
21 “Release of Antonio Maggio,” The Springfield Sunday Republican(Springfield, MA), April 13, 1902.
22 “Nest of Anarchists,” Idaho Statesman(Boise, ID), September 25, 1901.
23 “Said to Have Been Lynched,” The Morning Herald(Lexington, KY), September 15, 1901.
24 “Prediction of McKinley’s Death,” Kansas City Star, September 7, 1901.
25 “How to Deal with Anarchists,” The Daily Picayune, September 11, 1901.
28 “Anarchist Di Maggio Is At Home Again,” The Daily Picayune, June 23, 1902.
30 “Di Maggio In Trouble Again,” The New Orleans Item, April 27, 1903.
31 “Double Bill At Display,” The New Orleans Item, September 24, 1908.
32 “Labor Day At Display,” The New Orleans Item, September 26, 1908.
33 “New Bill This Week at West End,” The New Orleans Item, May 30, 1909.
34 “Children 3, 5, 6 Years, City’s Youngest Musical Family,” The New Orleans States, October 1, 1916.
35 “Severin Frank’s Fine Symphony,” The Daily Picayune, May 22, 1910.
36 “Actors At Last Secure Protection by Elimination of Arbitrary Clause in Vaudeville Contracts,” The Times-Pica-yune, May 4, 1919.
37 “Return to New Orleans,” The Biloxi Daily Herald, September 2, 1921.
38 “F. B. Williams Gives $1,000, Vaccaros $500 to CHIF,” The New Orleans Item, October 8, 1915.
39 “Patriotic Italians Celebrate Anniversary of Their Society,” The Daily Picayune, October 13, 1913.