van Deusen of the Sandestin Hilton’s Seagar’s wins piano competition

When it comes to competition, everybody likes to win – even pianists.

“Ain’t nothing like winning,” said Bobby van Deusen, who recently won the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest in Oxford, Mississippi.

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The 65-year-old, who lives in Pensacola and travels to the Emerald Coast six nights a week to play at Seagar’s Prime Steaks and Seafood in the Sandestin Hilton, won the Senior Division in the piano playing competition over Memorial Day weekend in Mississippi.

This was van Deusen’s second win at the piano competition, having won it in 2019. The last two years, the competition was held virtually. But this year they were back on stage and in person at the University of Mississippi.

The piano competition got its start back in 1975 as a fundraiser on Memorial Day in Illinois and was hosted by the Monticello Railway Museum.

The event was moved to Peoria, Illinois, in the 1990s and then to Mississippi four years ago.


Van Deusen, originally from Philadelphia, competed in Peoria three times, but didn’t win.

“I learned a lot … learned what they were looking for,” van Deusen said.

The old-time piano contest is all about popular tunes written before the 1930s with a lot of piano rolls, boogie woogie and honky tonk type music, van Deusen explained.

All music performed at the competition has to be from memory.

“It’s got to be memorized and in your fingers,” van Deusen said.

His first tune was “Dizzy Fingers” by Zez Confrey. Then his second selection was an old piano roll called “Doodley Doo.”

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