Special to The Messenger
Hands were clapping, feet were tapping and happy smiles were on all the folk in attendance for Ruby Butler Riffle’s 101st birthday celebration.
Her birthday was Wednesday; March 13, the family get-together to honor her will be held on March 16 at Oxford’s Olive Garden.
As usual on Wednesday, Mrs. Riffle played two hymns for the regular afternoon devotional at NHC Place in Anniston; afterward, she went back to the piano for a 30-minute set – without sheet music, mind you – that included such tunes as “Dwelling In Beulah Land,” “Strolling Through the Park,” “Darktown Strutter’s Ball,” Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and several jazz selections. Riffle also accompanied Anne Butler as she sang “He Touched Me” and “Amazing Grace.”
Grandson Mack N. Butler had high praise for her musical ability.
“She doesn’t use song books or sheet music when she plays,” he said. “I think it is unusual for a person her age to play a 30-minute program strictly from memory. It is impressive.”
World War I was coming to a close in 1917 when five-year old Riffle first began taking piano lessons. She recalls her mother telling her “I played the organ or piano everyday while carrying you in my womb” and says that is probably what began her love for music.
“I took lessons all through my school years,“ she said. “And I taught piano for a couple of years after graduation.”
During her teen years she began playing piano for a local 12-piece dance band.
“We played school dances, parties, church socials and our band was in demand for these,” she said. “In those days, groups would gather at someone’s house for a dance…these were popular gatherings and I enjoyed playing for these parties.”
Through the years, Riffle has continued to play for special events. Her last formal concert came in 2010 when she was the guest soloist at Rhonda Reid’s vocal concert at the Hardin Center for the Cultural Arts.
Although arthritis is beginning to take hold of some finger movements, it’s difficult for most listeners to make that discernment when she begins belting out such ragtime melodies as “Dinah,” “Down Yonder” and other songs from the 1920s.
The former women’s wear buyer for a major department store, Mrs. Riffle is the oldest member of Anniston’s First Baptist Church at McClellan. She is the mother of Harry D Butler, Gadsden; Charles R. Butler, Charlotte, NC; and Phoebe Harris, Anniston. There are eight grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and seven great-great grandchildren.