King of Ragtime Music

Topics: MusicRagtime

Scott Joplin was born in 1868 and it is believed that he grew up in the city of Texarkana, on the border of Texas and Arkansas. People have been left to speculate about Joplin’s origins because there is not a lot of accurate information. MIxed up census data and false information from Lottie Joplin, Scott’s widow, has led to this confusion. There is also very little information available on his parents, Florence and Giles Givens (a freed slave). It is known that Scott had five siblings, Monroe, Robert, Osie, William, and Myrtle Joplin.

Scott also grew up in a musical household. His mother sang and played the banjo, while his father played the violin. Giles Joplin taught all of his children the violin and had three of his children go on to be professional musicians. At the age of seven, Scott started to play the piano at a neighbor’s house. He worked with many local music teachers, including Mag Washington, J.

C. Johnson, and most important Julius Weiss. Weiss was a German immigrant who was very impressed with Scott’s talent at a young age. He gave Scott free lessons and exposed him to European art and music. Joplin left home at a young age to pursue music.

There are two common things that people believe happened to him after he left. One path is that he settled in Sedalia, Missouri, and attended Lincoln High School. The second path is that in about 1885 Joplin started his musical career in St.

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Louis, but neither of these theories is confirmed. The true first record of Joplin’s musical path was in 1891 when he started to perform with the Texana Minstrels in his hometown. A particular performance of theirs, a fundraiser to create a monument of Jefferson Davis, sparked controversy among Texarkana black citizens. The event was in several newspapers the group put on the show anyway. In 1893 he attended the World’s Columbian Exposition, then left for Sedalia to establish his home. He then played lead cornet in the Queen City Cornet Band and also traveled with the texas Medley Quartette vocal group. Joplin met a publisher while touring and was able to publish his first two pieces, Please Say You Will and A Picture of Her Face. In 1896 Joplin published Crush Collision March, Combination March, and Harmony Waltz Club. He continued to teach and mentored many young pianists. Joplin also attended university himself, but the records were destroyed in a fire, and there is no accurate information about the time he attended. During this time Joplin started to perform at two black men’s clubs, Black 400 Club, and Maple Leaf Club. Joplin started to compose rags, and though he is not the inventor of the music style, he is credited with redefining it. He was unsuccessful in publishing his first two piano rags, but his third, Original Rags was accepted by publisher Carl Hoffman. Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag was turned down by Carl Hoffman, despite going on to be one of Joplin’s most important compositions. Joplin was eventually assisted in publishing the composition by John Stark, and it became the first publication to include a royalty contract. Joplin would make one cent on each royalty sale, and by 1909 approximately five hundred thousand copies were sold. Joplin wrote one last rag in Sedalia, Swipesy, and moved to St. Louis with his new wife Belle Jones.

We, Joplin, moved back in 1902 he composed many significant pieces, including Sunflower Slow Drag (written with Scott Hayden), The strenuous life (a tribute to Theodore Roosevelt), and The Entertainer, and The Ragtime Dance. Joplin continued to teach and perform in St. Louis. The next step that Joplin felt he should take was writing a “ragtime opera”. Stark did not publish the opera, causing a rift to appear between the two. So Joplin went on to get A Guest of Honor published elsewhere. Around the same time, Joplin lost an infant child and divorced his wife. Joplin still went through with the opera, and it was a devastating financial failure. He was not able to pay all of his fines, and he lost all of the money he earned from the Maple Leaf Rag. Joplin met a young woman named Freddie Alexander and wrote the rag The Chrysanthemum for her. They soon married, but their story was quite short. In 1904, only a few years after they tied the knot, Freddie passed away from pneumonia. When she died, Scott left Sedalia, and never went back. The first piece of music that he wrote after her death was Bethena and it is speculated to be connected to Freddie. In the following three years after Freddie’s death, Joplin only published three rags, Leola, Eugenia, and The Nonpareil. His career started to go off track, but he let people know that he was writing a new opera. Joplin decided to go to New York and was able to find gigs there and have some decent success.

There he met Joseph F. Lamb, a white ragtime enthusiast, pianist, and composer. Joplin introduced him to Sark and was able to help Lamb publish some of his pieces. Joplin and Lamb have a close friendship and collaborated on a few pieces. But things started to slow down for Scott Joplin. In 1910 Joplin only published one rag, Stop time Rag, and finished his opera Treemonisha. But Treemonisha was not a ragtime opera, because he wanted to show his ability to work outside of ragtime. By 1916 Scott Joplin started to experience serious side effects from having syphilis, and by January 1917 he was hospitalized. He was transferred to a mental institution and died in April 1917, at the age of forty-nine. When he died he was almost forgotten, as jazz rose to the top. Maple Leaf Rag and his other compositions kept him alive, along with his well-deserved title of “King of Ragtime”. To this date, there is a fair amount of speculation about many of the details of Joplin’s life. But many people choose to stick with widely believed stories. The sad truth is that much of Joplin’s life was not recorded, but with the help of historians, his legacy continues.

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King of Ragtime Music. (2022, May 09). Retrieved from

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