Biography of Modern Music Composer Scott Joplin Part 1

About the famous ragtime composer Scott Joplin, biography and history.

Scott Joplin (1868-1917). One of America's great black artists and the self-proclaimed "King of the Ragtime Composers," Joplin was born in Texarkana, Tex. Nearly everyone in his family played an instrument or sang, and young Scott became fascinated by the piano at an early age.

At 14, Scott felt that he was ready to leave home and make his fortune as a musician. He headed for Missouri and played the piano in saloons, cafes, brothels, and on the big steam-boats that still sailed the Mississippi. In this era, a new type of music was developing in the Midwest. It combined elements of the black music of Africa, the Caribbean, and the southern U.S. with popular dances, band music, and the sentimental ballads of the late 19th century. Because of its tricky, syncopated rhythms, this new music was known as "ragged time" or later as "ragtime" music. Because of its association with the parlors of "sporting houses" and cheap honky-tonk saloons, and because it was developed primarily by itinerant black pianists, ragtime never became entirely respectable, which only served to increase its popularity with many Americans. Scott Joplin was to be permanently identified with this new music called ragtime.

In Sedalia, Mo., at the age of 28, Joplin faced a turning point in his career. He was persuaded by friends to study music at George Smith College, an educational institution for blacks run by the Methodist Church. Here he worked at translating the elusive rhythms of popular ragtime into formal musical notation. Meanwhile, he continued to support himself by performing on the entertainment circuit, notably at Will and Walker Williams' Maple Leaf Club, which attracted all the best musicians in the area. As a tribute to this lively institution, Joplin composed "The Maple Leaf Rag," which quickly became a favorite in Sedalia. Joplin himself was optimistic about its prospects for achieving a wider popularity. He told a friend: "'The Maple Leaf' will make me the king of ragtime composers." Nevertheless, Joplin had a difficult time in finding a publisher. Finally in 1899, he persuaded Joseph Stark, a Sedalia music dealer, to publish "The Maple Leaf Rag," and the immediate nationwide success of this piece seemed to fulfill Joplin's prediction. "The Maple Leaf" was heard everywhere, as a craze for ragtime swept America.

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