The Chicago-based Robinson is among 23 recipients of the fellowship, also known as the "genius grant," which provides winners with $500,000 paid over five years, with no restrictions on how money may be spent.
Robinson, 31, became interested in ragtime after an elementary school presentation that featured the music of Scott Joplin. He began studying the history of the early 20th-century musical form, and, by the age of 13, had taught himself to play the piano, learning Joplin's "The Entertainer" by ear.
In 1992‹at the age of 19‹he recorded his first demo, and was signed by Delmark Records. Since then, Robinson has recorded The Strongman (1993), Sounds in Silhouette (1994), Euphonic Sounds (1998), and Man out of Time (2003), and performed across the U.S. and in Europe. He plans to use the money to help educate children about ragtime music and its history.
Other recipients of this year's grants include a marine roboticist, a novelist, a farmer, and a high school debating coach.