The King of Ragtime
Joplin came to Sedalia in the 1890’s to study music at the George R. Smith College for Negroes and worked in the Main Street railroad entertainment district, mostly in the Maple Leaf Club where he was known as “The Entertainer.” He would blend familiar marches, cakewalks, Negro spirituals, and European national music into his own creation, Classic Ragtime. Seeking out Joplin, other young musicians came to Sedalia. Among them to be taught by him were James Scott, Scott Hayden and Arthur Marshall. A timely meeting in 1899 between Joplin and music publisher John Stark resulted in the publication of “The Maple Leaf Rag”. It propelled both men to fame and left Sedalia with the reputation as the birthplace of Ragtime, a status acknowledged for a hundred plus years.
Ed Berlin, Joplin’s definitive biographer, says the composer’s label, “The King of Ragtime” was appropriate and is supported by a vast body of evidence. It all began with “The Maple Leaf Rag,” America’s first musical million seller. Joplin became the ragtime king because his music was archetypal and established the structure other ragtime composers would then follow.
Joplin’s profilicproductivity further justifies his title. He wrote 40 original ragtime pieces, a ballet “The Ragtime Dance” and two operas “The Guest of Honor” and “Treemonisha”. His piano pieces were issued in all available 19th century formats: piano, vocal and instrumental sheet music, piano rolls, Edison’s phonograph cylinders and gramophone discs. Since his death, Joplin’s rags have been used as silent film accompaniment, movie and TV soundtracks and background for radio and television ads. In 1972 “Treemonisha” premiered in Atlanta and went on to play at Wolf Trap Farm and then 64 performances on Broadway. In 1974 his music was used for two ballet productions, “Elite Syncopations” and “The Red Back Book”.
In his lifetime Joplin received the acclamation of his musical contemporaries, the adulation of his devoted admirers and significant media publicity attesting to his popularity and fame.
His music has remained popular for more than a century. He received many accolades posthumously including being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, receiving a Hollywood Oscar for Hamlisch’s “The Sting” score in 1973, and a Pulitzer Prize for music in 1976, commemoration on a U.S. Postage Stamp issued in 1983. In 1973, the New York Public Library published Joplin’s two-volume “Collected Works of Scott Joplin”. A motion picture was made of his life in 1977. Max Morath’s PBS television series “The Ragtime Era” recognized Joplin’s significant contribution to American popular and classical music.