"Harry P. Guy and the Ragtime
Era of Detroit."
by Ms. Nancy Bostick and Mr. Arthur LaBrew.
"During that period when Detroit was known as the 'City
Beautiful' and 'where life is worth living'" wrote historian
and Afro-American reporter Fred Hart Williams in his unpublished
memoirs on Detroit, "Harry P. Guy was one of Detroit's unique
and unusually gifted musicians. [Guy's] extreme modesty, his
obvious efforts at self-effacement withheld from him the fame
and wealth which should rightfully have been his. His superb
arrangements of music compositions, his ability to infuse them
with the magic of his inborn melody and harmony of tone, quite
often was the measure of success of an otherwise mediocre composition.
He was equally at home with arrangements of serious dimensions
and with so-called popular forms of musical output. Harry P.
Guy was the soul of music. Money seemingly mattered little. It
was nothing unusual for him to neglect to place his name on manuscripts
as the arranger. In consequence scores of musical successes carried
only the name of the composer and lyricist."
Born July, 1870 in Zanesville, Ohio (about 45 miles to the east
of Columbus) to Samuel (b. 1843, Ohio) and Lucy A. Guy (b. 1847,
Virginia), he was about eight years old when he began the study
of piano, violin, and pipe organ. As a youth, he peddled the
black-owned Cleveland Gazette, and along with his brother Erin
and sister, Ella M. Guy, he participated in a variety of musical
events sponsored by his school, Hill High (class of 1886) and
church, St. Paul A. M. E. He apparently had the opportunity to
meet members of Donavin's Original Tennesseans when they appeared
in Zanesville, including the black tenor and composer H. M. Wilson,
as well as Alexander Luca of the famed Luca Brothers. It is quite
possible that such personalities encouraged the young Harry P.
Guy to continue his musical pursuits.
Sometime in the 1880s Guy appears to have moved to Cincinnati,
as he studied with George Schneider, a noted pianist and teacher
there. He also had the opportunity to accompany the famous Madame
Marie Selika during her opera appearances in that city, as well
as being employed as the accompanist for the Cincinnati Opera
Club, a white institution. Apparently, he also accompanied the
Fisk Jubilee Singers during their tours through Cincinnati. One
of Guy's earliest known compositions, "The Flowret Waltz"
was published there in 1887 by Ilson & Co. The next year
Ilson published his "My Wooing," which was "sung
with great success" by A. C. Orcutt while performing with
Hanlon's New Fantasma Company. Guy's "When the Dew Begems
the Lea" song was another early composition published by
Ilson & Co.