Scott Joplin Day

November 24, 1868 – April 1, 1917

 

A tribute to the King of Ragtime

Composer and pianist Scott Joplin was born November 24, 1868 in Texarkana, Arkansas.

Joplin, who lived in St. Louis during 1885-94, learned piano, formed a vocal quartet, and taught mandolin and guitar.

He played piano in local clubs and bars while developing his songwriting abilities and led the Texas Medley Quartet which performed in black vaudeville.

In 1893 Joplin appeared with a band at Chicago’s World’s Fair, moving to Sedalia, Missouri the following year.

With the help of his supporter and publisher John Stark, Joplin began to get his songs, waltzes, marches and rags published in 1895.

In 1899 his “Maple Leaf Rag” was published and it quickly became the biggest sheet music seller of the ragtime era, setting off a nationwide craze.

Joplin, who moved to St. Louis in 1901 and New York in 1907, wrote 44 rags (including “The Entertainer”), a ragtime ballet and two operas including “Treemonisha.”

However his attempts to move ragtime beyond its folk roots and produce operas met with failure when he was unable to get financial backing and that broke his heart and spirit.

Joplin, who wrote his last two rags in 1914, began to decline a few years earlier from syphilis and he died in 1917 at the age of 48 at the same time that jazz was replacing ragtime as America’s most popular music.

More than 55 years after his death, due to its inclusion in the movie The Sting, Joplin’s “The Entertainer” appeared on the pop charts, sparking a ragtime revival.

Scott Joplin never recorded but he made a few piano rolls; here is his version of his “Maple Leaf Rag.”

-Scott Yanow

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