Sedalia's Ragtime Heritage
When America gained its independence the people tried to disconnect from their European colonial past. Nearly everything was altered except their music. Old world traditions dominated America’s popular musical culture for over a century until gifted composers began to manipulate those traditional styles and ragtime emerged. Ragtime was created before 1899, but out of the old world musical potpourri and the new emerging syncopated music, Scott Joplin defined the new ragtime and alchemized it into musical gold.
His Maple Leaf Rag became the standard for ragtime and the antecedent for many other forms of American popular music. Even compositions and styles not musically influenced by ragtime were enabled by the new burgeoning commercial markets that Joplin’s Classic Maple Leaf Rag created. Our new music became both popular and profitable and while it quickly migrated to St. Louis and New Orleans and New York and the West Coast it was in fact in
SEDALIA, WHERE AMERICA’S MUSIC BEGAN!
Sedalia was Joplin’s base for only a few short years while he traveled extensively around the country. With his achievement, came notoriority and many of the early ragtime composers sought him out while he lived here. He became a respected mentor to the first generation of ragtime writers and performers.
But ragtime in Sedalia didn’t end when Joplin left after 1900. Over the next century the small town would regularly recognize the creative genius that was sparked in Sedalia and Joplin and his music were periodically honored with concerts, plaques and a grandly humble monument in the first 60 years.
But then, in 1974, the first Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival brought together thousands of enthusiasts to hear nearly every major ragtime performer and scholar actively involved in the field. After a brief gap from the Festival has continued uninterrupted for 32 years and has virtually featured nearly everyone known in ragtime during that period.
For over forty years the city’s festival tradition has involved innumerable local citizens who have donated countless volunteer hours and funds to perpetuate this heritage event. In addition ragtime scholars, composers and performers themselves have been equally generous in donating their time, talents and resources to sustain this long season of Festivals.
At the 1974 Ragtime Festival, Eubie Blake interrupted his monolog to declare, Ladies and Gentlemen, you have something to be so proud of here. Don’t let New Orleans or New York or anywhere else for that matter tell you different. This is where it all began (and he added later, at 91, after performing all around the world, I finally get to play Sedalia where it all started!)
So rich is Sedalia’s ragtime tradition, in 1983 the U.S. Postal Service chose the city to host the Scott Joplin Commemorative Stamp First Day of Issue Ceremony. You see it was the logical place for the nation to formally honor the man responsible for his great gift of contagiously exuberant, joyful music, right here in