Scott Joplin

 

The music of America in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century was Ragtime, and the King of Ragtime was Scott Joplin. Born in 1868 in Texarkana, Texas, Scott Joplin came from a music loving family and began to study piano at the age of seven. By fourteen, he was proficient enough to leave home and travel through the worlds of minstrel, dance halls and vaudeville in Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas. In St. Louis, a new type of music was becoming increasingly popular. Attending the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, the twenty-four year old heard first-hand how popular this new genre had become and decided to abandon hopes of a concert hall career to throw himself completely into the Ragtime world.

A synthesis of European and American melodies and harmonies with rhythmic devices of West African music (polyrhythms and a heavily syncopated beat), this new music at first confused white audiences hearing it for the first time, searching amidst the syncopation for the beat. Originally described as "raggedy" or "ragged time" - it became known as Ragtime, and the syncopation (unexpected accents) gave it great energy and drive.

Scott Joplin had established himself in Sedalia, Missouri as a Ragtime "professor". In 1899 he wrote his magnum opus, "The Maple Leaf Rag", the first piece of American music to sell more than one million copies of sheet music. With the financial success of this piece, he was able to spend more time composing and less time performing. 

In the early 1900s, he moved to New York City and wrote two operas, some songs, waltzes, marches, and about fifty "rags" for piano solo. Scott Joplin died at the age of forty-nine on April 1, 1917, while working on a Ragtime symphony. For over a half century his music was neglected, until the film "The Sting" of 1973 brought it back into popularity which it retains to this day.