Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

Temptation Rag

Coming in 2018

“The soul of an artist is always striving for perfection, never quite attaining it.” Mike hesitated. “But then, I know you understand.” It was a line he had used many times before and with women far more beautiful. But at that singular moment, his hand resting on the bar just inches from hers, he felt as if—possibly—he meant it.

In 1896, ragtime music began to sweep over New York City in what became a frenzied wave.  A fortunate few rode on its crest for a couple of decades before it came crashing down.  Among them were the Kentucky-born Ben Harney, billed as the originator of ragtime, a white man with a thundering piano style and raw vocals evocative of the Mississippi delta; the conservatory-trained Mike Bernard, a favorite of audiences for the speed of his playing and his acrobatic antics, a man whose enormous ego made him singularly unpopular with his peers; and Will Marion Cook, an African-American who first made his name as a classically-trained violinist  and later as a temperamental composer of ragtime operas whose genius was often superseded by anger and frustration.

And there were the women who loved them. Jessie Haynes, a black-haired beauty and musician in her own right; she adored Ben Harney and stood by him through the womanizing, the drinking and gambling, and his ultimate descent into poverty.  May Convery, Mike Bernard’s first and perhaps only love—before his countless other affairs and marriages with such notables as Broadway star Blossom Seely and Ziegfeld girl Dolly Zuckerman.  And Abbie Mitchell, daughter of a black woman and a Jewish-German man from New York’s Lower East Side, an opera singer whose marriage to Will Marion Cook at the age of fourteen neither dimmed the brilliance of her talent nor shortened the list of her stunning accomplishments.

The lives of all these fascinating characters are interwoven in the fictionalized story of Temptation Rag, a compelling tale of the ragtime era and the musicians who made it great—their lust for fame, their loves and betrayals, and their ultimate longing for redemption.





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