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Scott Joplin

Joplin, Scott (jŏpˈlĭn) [key], 1868–1917, American ragtime pianist and composer, b. Texarkana, Tex. Self-taught, Joplin left home in his early teens to seek his fortune in music. He lived in St. Louis (1885–93), playing in saloons and bordellos. In 1894 he moved to Sedalia, Mo., and played second cornet in a local band. For the next two years Joplin toured with a vocal ensemble he had formed and made his first efforts at composing ragtime. When the group disbanded (1896), he returned to Sedalia, where he stayed about four years. During this time he studied music at George Smith College, an educational institution for blacks sponsored by the Methodist Church.

In 1899, Joplin published the "Maple Leaf Rag," and its success was instantaneous. However, his next two major efforts, a folk ballet titled Rag Time Dance (1902) and a ragtime opera called A Guest of Honor (never published) were failures. Joplin continued to write ragtime music and moved (1909) to New York City, where he had considerable success until 1915, when at his own expense he produced a concert version of a second ragtime opera, Treemonisha (1911), a racial and spiritual parable that failed to gain recognition. This failure and the declining interest in ragtime are thought to have affected his personality, which became moody and temperamental. In 1916 he was confined to the Manhattan State Hospital, where he died the following year.

Joplin's rags were highly innovative, characterized by a lyricism and suppleness that elevated ragtime from honky-tonk piano music to a serious art form. Some of his compositions are "The Entertainer" (1902), "Rose Leaf Rag" (1907), "Gladiolus Rag" (1907), "Fig Leaf Rag" (1908), and "Magnetic Rag" (1914). A revival of interest in ragtime occurred in the 1970s. Several of Joplin's rags were used as background music for the Hollywood film The Sting (1973), and a Joplin Festival was held at Sedalia in 1974.

See R. Blesh and H. Janis, They All Played Ragtime (rev. ed. 1966); P. Gammond, Scott Joplin and the Ragtime Era (1975); J. Haskins and K. Benson, Scott Joplin (1978); E. A. Berlin, King of Ragtime (1994).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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