Biography of the PRO

The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, 2018 portrait

Arthur Pryor in 1919 The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra is the world’s only year-round, professional ensemble re-creating “America’s Original Music” – the syncopated sounds of early musical theater, silent cinema, and vintage dance. The PRO came into being as the result of Rick Benjamin’s 1985 discovery of thousands of turn-of-the-century orchestra scores once belonging to Victrola recording star Arthur Pryor. In 1988 the Orchestra made its formal debut at Alice Tully Hall – the first concert ever presented at Lincoln Center by such an ensemble. Since then PRO has appeared at hundreds of leading arts venues, including the Ravinia Festival, the Smithsonian Institution, Chautauqua, the Brucknerhaus (Austria), the New York 92nd Street Y, and the American Dance Festival. In 1999 PRO’s music inspired master choreographer Paul Taylor’s new dance Oh You Kid! which was premiered at The Kennedy Center jointly by the Paul Taylor Dance Company and the Orchestra. In June, 2003 the PRO presented the premier of Rick Benjamin’s new reconstruction of Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha at San Francisco’s Stern Grove Festival. In 2005 and again in 2006, Paragon had the honor of being presented in Minneapolis’s Orchestra Hall as guests of the Minnesota Orchestra.

In addition to its worldwide concert hall, university, and festival appearances, the PRO has acquired a considerable following both here and abroad through its radio programs on the New York Times’ WQXR, National Public Radio (All Things Considered, Performance Today and others), the British Broadcasting Corporation, and the Voice of America networks. Since 1989 the Walt Disney Company has relied on the Orchestra’s recordings for the outdoor “area music” heard at Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland, Disney World, and Disneyland Paris; the PRO strengthened its international following during its extended engagement as a U.S. Ambassador of Goodwill at the 1992 World’s Universal Exposition in Seville, Spain.

Over the years the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra has been heard on the soundtracks of several motion pictures and television programs. The Orchestra’s audio and video recordings have been widely praised, and considered instrumental in rekindling interest in America’s rich traditions of theater, cinema, and dance orchestra music.

The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra is an IRS 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Non-Profit organization.

Paragon Ragtime Orchestra concerts are sponsored in part by
the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

NEA logo small

Recordings: New World Records, Vanguard, Rialto Records, Newport Classic, Dorian, GB, and Gaslight.


Rick Benjamin, Founder & Director

Rick Benjamin Conductor Rick Benjamin has built a career on the discovery and performance of lost American music from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He is the founder and director of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, which uses his extraordinary 20,000-title collection of historic American orchestral scores (c.1830-1930) as the basis of its repertoire. In addition to his work with Paragon, Mr. Benjamin maintains active careers as a pianist, arranger, and tubist. As a guest conductor leads other innovative ensembles, including the National Orchestra of Ireland (Dublin), the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, the Aarhus and Aalborg Symfoniorkesters (both Denmark), the Virginia Symphony, the Olympia Symphony (Washington State), the Erie Philharmonic, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (Reykjavík), and Chamber Music Hawaii.

Mr. Benjamin is also the leading conductor of music for silent films, with over 750 screenings to his credit. His research in early movie music is extensive and ongoing, and has led to Mr. Benjamin’s creation of one of the world’s best archives of silent film scores – nearly 1,000 titles ranging from 1898 to 1928. His articles on American music appear in several international publications, and lecture tours have taken him to more than 100 colleges and universities across North America. Mr. Benjamin’s reconstruction of the Scott Joplin opera Treemonisha was premiered to great acclaim in San Francisco, tours, and was recorded by Mr. Benjamin and the PRO in a 2-CD album set for New World Records. Rick Benjamin is continuing work on his books The American Theater Orchestra and Encyclopedia of Arrangers & Orchestrators: 1875-1925. He is a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences ( and a member of Broadcast Music Inc. (

Rick Benjamin is available for:

  • Conducting engagements
  • Piano concerts
  • Orchestrations/arrangements
  • Masterclasses
  • Speaking engagements
  • Consultations
  • Research
  • Writing projects

Inquiries: e-mail Telephone +1 (570) 809-0551.



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Where America's Music Begins
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