Biography

Scott Joplin was a black American composer and pianist known as the "King of Ragtime" at the turn of the 20th century. Studying piano with teachers near his childhood home, Joplin traveled through the Midwest from the mid-1880s, performing at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Settling in Sedalia, MO, in 1895, he studied music at the George R. Smith College for Negroes and hoped for a career as a concert pianist and classical composer. His first published songs brought him fame, and in 1900 he moved to St. Louis to work more closely with the music publisher John Stark. Joplin published his first extended work, a ballet suite using the rhythmic devices of ragtime, with his own choreographic directions, in 1902. His first opera, "A Guest of Honor" (1903), was lost by the copyright office. Moving to New York City in 1907, Joplin wrote an instruction book, "The School Of Ragtime", outlining his complex bass patterns, sporadic syncopation, stop-time breaks and harmonic ideas that were being widely imitated and popularized. Joplin's contract with Stark ended in 1909, and though he made piano rolls in his final years, most of his efforts involved "Treemonisha", which synthesized his musical ideas into conventional, three-act opera. He also wrote the libretto, about a mythical black leader, and choreographed it. "Treemonisha" had only one semipublic performance during Joplin's lifetime; he became obsessed with its succeeding, suffered a nervous breakdown and collapse in 1911, and was institutionalized in 1916. His reputation as a composer rests on his classic rags for piano, including "Maple Leaf Rag" and "The Entertainer", published from 1899 through 1909, and "Treemonisha", published at his own expense in 1911. It was well received when produced by an Atlanta, GA, troupe on Broadway in 1972, and interest in Joplin and ragtime was stimulated in the 1970s by the use of his music in the Academy Award-winning score to the film The Sting (1973).