Skip to main content
Lilly Library

First published jazz composition

Sheet music cover for The "Jelly Roll" Blues

Happy Birthday, Jelly Roll! September 20th was the birthday of Jelly Roll Morton, American composer, arranger, ragtime and early jazz pianist, and bandleader. He was born in New Orleans in 1885. While some dispute his contention that he invented jazz in 1902, among the many accomplishments that are credited to him is the first jazz composition to be published. The “Jelly Roll” Blues was published in 1915 by the Chicago publisher Will Rossiter. The composer’s name is presented on the piece as Ferd. Morton. The New Grove dictionary of American music gives his birth name as Ferdinard Joseph LaMothe or Lemott. The Lilly Library has a copy in its Sam DeVincent Collection of American Sheet Music, and it is one of thousands of pieces of sheet music from the Lilly Library’s collection that have been digitized and are available on the website IN Harmony.

—Elizabeth Johnson, Head of Technical Services, Lilly Library

View a larger image