To continue honoring African Americans for Black History Month, I will take this week to focus on music and musicians. Today’s Person of the Day is none other but Scott Joplin who so greatly influenced America’s musical landscape with the ragtime genre. I’m fascinated by people who view the world through musical notes. How beautiful the world’s landscape must look to them…
Joplin was born some time in the late 1860s near the border of Texas and Arkansas. He was born into a musical family and early on showed great talent for the piano. As a teen, he became a traveling musician and eventually settled in Sedalia, Missouri where he studied music during the 1890s at Sedalia’s George R. Smith College for Negroes. His composition “The Maple Leaf Rag” would become the biggest ragtime song ever. His other well-known piece was “The Entertainer” which would catapult him back to fame in the 1970s when Robert Redford and Paul Newman starred in the movie The Sting and the song became its theme.
By 1907, Joplin settled in New York to produce his opera Treemonisha, a precursor to George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. It was staged in 1915 as a scaled-down production, and although it’d take a while, it eventually became a full-staged production.
In 1913 Joplin formed a publishing company with his third wife; however, by 1916 he started to suffer from the side effects of syphilis becoming hospitalized and institutionalized as a result. He died on April 1, 1917. In 1976, Joplin received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Treemonisha.
Here is audio of what is apparently Scott Joplin himself playing “The Maple Leaf Rag.” Though, if you read the comments, there’s some dispute about whether or not it’s really him and that the recording is most likely a piano roll which sped up songs.
Here is audio of “The Entertainer” on a piano roll.
Biographical information gathered from here.