Benjamin Robertson Harney was an American vaudeville artist, comedian, singer, pianist and composer of popular music and is generally considered to be an originator of ragtime music from which jazz and modern syncopation was derived.. He was born in Tennessee into a prominent family and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. When working in Middlesboro, Kentucky as a post office employee sometime in 1887 he first heard a mountain fiddler playing a syncopated beat which fascinated to the extent that immediately set out to imitate and master on his piano. Harney moved to New Yorkin 1896 appearing regularly in Tony Pastor's Music Hall. His music was much admired and other composers and songwriters took up his style spreading ragtime across America. He published his influential Ben Harney's Rag Time Instructor
the following year and his songs You've Been a Good Old Wagon, But You've Done Broke Down
(1896), Mister Johnson, Turn Me Loose
(1896) and Cake Walk In The Sky
(1899) were all big hits. Harney toured widely in America, Europe, Asia, Australia and the South Pacific billing himself as "The Originator of Ragtime" or "The Father of Ragtime", a claim not accepted by all. He retired after a heart attack in 1928 and died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania aged 66.