Scott Joplin

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Scott Joplin (1868-1917)

Scott Joplin, commonly known as the "King of Ragtime" music, was born on November 24, 1868, in Bowie County, Texas near Linden. Joplin came from a large musical family. His father, Giles Joplin was a musician who had fiddled dance music while serving as a slave at his master's parties. His mother, Florence Givens Joplin, born free and out of slavery, sang and played the banjo, and four of his brothers and sisters either sang or played strings.

Joplin's talent was revealed at an early age. Encouraged by his parent's, he became extremely proficient on the banjo and gained an interest for playing the piano. After Joplin's parents purchased a piano for the family, he taught himself how to play the instrument so well that his piano playing became remarkable. Joplin soon began playing for church and local social events. By age eleven, while under the teachings of a German music teacher named Juliuss Weiss, Joplin was learning the finer points of harmony and style. As a teenager, he played well enough to be employed as a dance musician.

In 1884, Joplin left home and traveled the Midwest for some time as an intinerant pianist playing in saloons and brothels. He settled in St. Louis a few years later and continued his studies. He found employment there in the city's prostitution district playing as a cafe pianist.

Joplin left St. Louis in 1893 and performed at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He left there in 1894 and arrived in Sedalia, Missouri, where he spent the next year or so entertaining the patrons of a private club on the second floor of a saloon by the name of "Maple Leaf Club." In 1895, Joplin continued his studies at the George R. Smith College for negros where he soon published his first composition, the song Please Say You Will. From there, Joplin toured with an eight member Texas Medley Quartet across the country all the way up to Syracuse, New York. This Quartet disbanded in 1897 and Joplin organized another group, the Seda Quartet, which performed off and on during the next few years.

In 1899, Joplin composed the Maple Leaf Rag. This song soon became the most popular piano rag of the period. It brought Joplin popularity, which inspired him to compose several more original rags.

Joplin headed for New York in 1907 where he continued composing music and began instructing others in music. He son so...

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...tainer, completed in 1902, proved to be one of Joplin's other most famous works. This piece brought him unprecedented popularity and fame after his death when it was used in 1974 in the award-winning film The Sting.

Ragtime Dance was completed by Joplin in 1902. This rag was written to act as a type of preliminary sketch for a following ragtime opera composed shortly thereafter named A Guest of

Joplin published one of his greatest operas in May 1911 called Treemonisha. Treemonisha consisted of a 240-page manuscript which was written for the use of eleven voices and piano accompaniment. This piece became the first grand opera composed by an African American. In 1976, Treemonisha won the coveted Pulitzer Prize.


The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, 20 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1980)9: 708-709

Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, ed. Nicolas Slonimsky, 7th ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1984)1135-1136

Biographical Dictionary of Afro- American and African Musicians, ed. Eileen Southern, (Connecticut: Greenwood Press)220-222

Dictionary of American Negro Biogarphy, ed. Rayford W. Logan, (New York: W.W. Norton and Co.)369-371
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