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Scott Joplin: The "King Of Ragtime"

History constantly gives us insights into the past, some good, some not so good.

Legendary  Scott Joplin

Legendary Scott Joplin


Early Years Of Scott Joplin

It is uncertain of the exact date Joplin was born but sometime around 1868 in Texas to a former slave, Jiles Joplin, and a maid, Florence. Florence worked as a maid in Texarcana, Texas, for a white home. This was when Joplin taught himself piano. The family moved to Sedalia, Missouri, where Joplin attended Lincoln High school. Later he returned to Texarcana, where he worked with a minstrel troupe local black musicians the Queen City concert band of local black musicians.

Amusic professor Julius Weiss, a German-Jewish immigrant, was so impressed with Joplin's talent he offered to teach him free of charge. Joplin never forgot the kindness of Weiss and would, through the years, send him gifts.

By 1899, Joplin worked with a lawyer, Robert Higdon, and music store owner John Stark in Sedalia. Joplin worked as a pianist at local social clubs for black men, the Maple Leaf, and the Black 400. He wrote the Maple Leaf Rag in tribute to his time at the Maple Leaf.

During this time, Joplin worked the circuit, traveling wherever he could to play his music. John Stark published the Maple Leaf Rag with a contract to Joplin paying a one-cent royalty on each sale. By 1919 over half a million copies were sold.

But life wasn't easy for Joplin. He suffered both personal and business losses. Joplin married Belle Jones, and they had a child who died months later. It was difficult for Belle, and they divorced a short time later. He married Freddie Alexander, but she contacted pneumonia on their honeymoon and died only ten days later. He later married Lottie Stokes, who died in 1917.

Timeline Of Scott Joplin

  • 1891 Career begins in Sedalia, Missouri
  • 1896 Starts publishing songs
  • 1899 Publishes Maple Leaf
  • 1903 Moves to St. Louis, Missouri
  • 1907 Moves to New York
  • 1911 Wrote Treemonisha opera
  • 1916 Made his piano rolls
  • 1917 Dies in New York

Joplin's Rise To Fame

With his song, Rag Time , Joplin instantly successfully with the public. Sadly, his illness with Syphillis and dementia made it difficult to control his hands. He was admitted to Manhattan State Hospital, where he died two months later. Joplin is buried at St. Michaels, East Elmhurst, New York. He died penniless and shared a grave without a headstone. Finally, in 1974 the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers placed a monument at his grave. They later added a bench at the site.

Every year the cemetery holds a spring concert for many years. When it started, it was such a success; a barbeque and festive atmosphere brought in the followers of Scott Joplin.

In Sedalia, Missouri an annual Joplin Ragtime Festival and is scheduled for June 1-4, 2022. Located at 600 E. 3rd St., Sedalia.

Joplin Grave Marker

Joplin Grave Marker


Legacy of Scott Joplin

Although Ragtime was slowly eclipsed by the age of Jazz, in the 1970s, an album of his was recorded by Joshua Rifkin, selling millions of copies. At the same time, the movie The Sting, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, brought a revival of Joplin's music. An Oscar for The Entertainer won Best Film Score. In 1976, a Pulitzer Prize was awarded posthumously for his contribution to American music.

Here are a few awards to Joplin:

  • 1970 Songwriters Hall of Fame
  • 1973 The Movie Sting, an Oscar for Best Score
  • 1976 Pulitzer Prize
  • 1987 Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame
  • 1987 St. Louis Walk of Fame

The St. Louis Walk of Fame is located at 6504 Delmar Blvd., Louis, Mo. Over 150 stars are placed there, including Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, Dizzy Dean, Tina Turner, and others. The Walk of Fame is also named one of the ten Great Streets of America.

It is no wonder Joplin is often referred to as the "Father Of American Music." However, his music is like a breath of fresh air and probably deserves more credit for his compositions.

The piano rolls of Joplin are among the first recordings for inclusion in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

One of the best books, King Of Ragtime: Scott Joplin by Edward A. Berlin, is a most accurate and informative book complete with photos, covers of his sheet music, and events that Joplin participated in.

Joplin Graveside Concert

Joplin Graveside Concert

Joplin Composing

Joplin Composing

Sources Used

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