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Scott Joplin


"The Entertainer"

Researcher: Rachel Sahlman     Artist: Dick Strandberg

Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin was an American composer. He was born on November 24, 1868 in Bowie County, Texas. He died April 1, 1917 in New York City.

Joplin studied piano with teachers near his home in Texas. From the mid-1880s, he gave piano performances throughout the Midwest, and he performed at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

Joplin made his home in Sedalia, Missouri in 1895, where he studied at the George R. Smith College for Negroes. He hoped for a career as a classical composer and pianist. He published some songs that made him immediately famous. He then moved to St. Louis in 1900 to work more closely with his publisher, John Stark.

In 1902, Joplin's first major composition was a ballet suite that utilized the rhythms of a type of music called "ragtime." Ragtime was a combination of folk tunes, African rhythms, and Creole influences. It was played by small groups in the streets of New Orleans and on showboats on the Mississippi River. It was peculiarly American, and it was like no other music heard before.

The score for his first opera, A Guest of Honor, which was written in 1903, is no longer in existence, and the possibility exists that it was lost in the copyright office.

Joplin moved to New York in 1907, where he wrote an instruction book called The School of Ragtime. This was an outline of the complex bass patterns, stop-time breaks, harmonic ideas, and sporadic syncopation he used in his compositions. Over time, Joplin became known as the "King of Ragtime."

The contract between Stark and Joplin expired in 1909, and Joplin, who made many piano rolls, spent much of his remaining years working on his opera Treemonisha. The libretto for this three-act opera, which was also written by Joplin, featured a mythical black leader. Joplin also choreographed the opera. Treemonisha was performed only once during his lifetime.

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Joplin became so involved with the success, or lack of it, of Treemonisha that he suffered a collapse in 1911 followed by a nervous breakdown that caused him to be institutionalized in 1916. He died the next year at the age of 49.

Joplin's most famous compositions are the Maple Leaf Rag, and The Entertainer, which became popular again when it was heard in the movie The Sting. in the 1970s. Other compositions by Joplin were also used in the movie. Treemonisha was performed on Broadway in 1972 and was well-received.

Bibliographic Citation Format:

Author's last name, first name, middle initial. "Title of biography." SPECTRUM Home & School Magazine. [http://www.incwell.com/Spectrum.html] (date accessed). © K. B. Shaw

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