Scott Joplin born in Texarkana, Texas in 1868

Scott Joplin
Born in Texarkana, Texas in 1868
An African American composer and pianist, Scott
Joplin has been known as the King of Ragtime
since the turn of the 20th century
Joplin grew up in this 4-family house. As a child,
his family didn’t own a piano, but his mother
cleaned homes and most of them had pianos, so
Scott taught himself to play.
his family
was poor,
his father
(a former
slave) and
were able
to buy a
piano for
Scott when
he was 14.
Since the young Joplin
showed such musical
potential at an early age,
a German neighbor gave
Scott free classical music
lessons where he learned
about many of the great
composers shown below.
German neighbor
Julius Weiss
At the age of 20, Joplin moved out to make a life of
his own. He sang in quartets, played trumpet in the
Queen City Concert Band, and was an actor in a
minstrel troupe. He traveled everywhere
throughout the Midwest and New York.
At the age of 25, Joplin traveled to Chicago to play at
the World’s Fair. The Chicago World's Fair was held
to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher
Columbus' "discovery" of the New World.
The fair had a
profound effect on
architecture, the arts,
Chicago's self image
and American
industrial optimism.
The Fair covered more than 600 acres, and it featured
nearly 200 new buildings of European architecture, canals
and lagoons, and people and cultures from around the
world. Over 27 million people (about half the U.S.
population) attended the Exposition over the six months it
was open. It was here that Joplin was introduced to many
other styles of music, especially the marching band music
of John Phillip Sousa, who played there daily.
At 27, Joplin settled in Sedalia Missouri, and studied
music at the George R. Smith college for Negroes
where he studied music theory, harmony, and
composition. Since the college and its records were
destroyed in a fire in 1925, there is no way of
knowing how long he went there.
While in Sedalia, Joplin
worked at the Williams
Brother’s Saloon in the
evenings, entertaining guests
in the 2nd floor private club
known as the Maple Leaf Club.
One of his most famous songs
is named after this club.
A monument erected on the
site of the Maple Leaf Club.
It’s now a parking lot.
In 1899, Joplin sold
what would become
one of his most famous
pieces, "Maple Leaf
Rag", to John Stark &
Son, a Sedalia music
publisher. Joplin
received a one-cent
royalty for each copy
and ten free copies for
his own use, as well as
an advance.
The Maple Leaf Rag earned Joplin a modest income for the
rest of his life. It has been estimated that Joplin made $360
per year on this piece. "Maple Leaf Rag" boosted Joplin to
the top of the list of ragtime performers, giving him the
nickname, “The King of Ragtime,” and it moved ragtime into
prominence as a musical form.
Due to the success
of “Maple Leaf
Rag,” Joplin moved
to St. Louis with his
new wife, Belle. It
was during this time
that he wrote some
of his greatest
including “The
Entertainer,” “March
Majestic,” and
“Ragtime Dance.”
St. Louis
A few months later, Joplin composed a ragtime opera called
“A Guest of Honor,” and formed an opera company with
personnel of 30. He rehearsed the work at the Crawford
Theatre in St. Louis, and embarked on a tour scheduled to
take him to towns in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and
Early in the tour, someone
associated with the company
stole the box office receipts,
seriously damaging the
company's financial position. It
was probably in Pittsburg,
Kansas, a couple of weeks
later, that the tour ended,
with Joplin unable to meet his
payroll. Furthermore, unable
to pay for the company's board
at a theatrical boarding house,
all of his possessions, including
the music from the opera, were confiscated. Copies of
the score were never filed with the Library of Congress
and the music has never been recovered.
In 1907, he moved to New York City
and wrote an instruction book called
“The School of Ragtime”.
In New York,
Joplin started
producing an
opera called
” in 1911. He
paid for
Treemonisha combined all his musical ideas
in a three-act opera. It was the first black
American opera to be written and
He became
obsessed with
producing the
opera and it
drove him to
a nervous
after it’s
failure with
audiences in
He died in NYC in 1917, just 2 years
after the failure of his opera.
Joplin never
made an audio
recording, but
he did make 7
piano rolls in
1916. They
are they only
examples we
have of his
playing ability.
Scott Joplin’s music was revived in 1972 when the
movie “The Sting” used it for the background to
the scenes in the movie and the soundtrack. His
rag, “The Entertainer” in particular enjoyed a
new popularity, especially when it reached #3 on
“Billboard’s Hot 100” in 1974.
In his 49 years of life
he was never
recognized as a serious
composer. During his
lifetime, there were
little opportunities for
black musicians to
have their
compositions heard by
anyone in the
“serious” world.
Recognition came posthumously (after he died). In
1976, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
The Entertainer
Maple Leaf Rag