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The Best of Scott Joplin - composed by Scott Joplin played by Ania Safa

​Scott Joplin - one min bio

The Great Musician Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin   1868 - 1917

Before there was ever jazz music, there was "ragtime."  Like jazz, ragtime has unusual beats and a strong rhythm.  It also includes early American folk tunes.  Therefore, ragtime is a music form that represents the past as well as the present.  The "father" of ragtime music is Scott Joplin.  He was one of the greatest piano players and composers in history.

Scott was born in Texarkana, Texas in 1868.  His parents were Giles and Florence Joplin.  Scott had three brothers and two sisters.  The whole family was very talented, musically.  Giles Joplin was a fiddler and Florence sang and played the banjo.  So, Scott got his first lessons at home.  He then took lessons from several White teachers who had heard him play.  They, too, encouraged him to study music.

By the time Scott was a teenager, he was already in great demand around Texarkana.  He played at churches, parties, picnics, and dances.  To further his talents, he even played in less wholesome places, like bars and nightclubs.

Scott wanted more than anything to be able to always play and enjoy music.  However, his father had different ideas.  He had a good job with the railroad, and he wanted Scott to get a job with the railroad, too.  Giles Joplin had lived a very hard life.  He had once been a slave, therefore a good job was very important.  "Music will never be a good job," he would often tell Scott.  After fighting with his father over his musical future, sometime in his middle teens, Scott left home to go on the road.

By 1885, Scott Joplin had settled in St. Louis, Missouri, playing the piano at the Silver Dollar saloon.  There, Scott played "jig piano," which was what ragtime was first called.  "Honest"  Jon Turpin, the  owner of the Silver Dollar, was a true rag music lover.  In 1895, Scott moved to Sedalia, Missouri to work at the Maple Leaf Club.  By the time, he had the desire to become a more respectable musician.  So, at the age of 27, he enrolled in the George R. Smith College to study music.

Shortly thereafter, Scott Joplin began to compose and publish music.  His "rag" tunes made him famous and successful.  He wrote dozens of them, including classics such as Maple Leaf Rag, Magnetic Rag, Wall Street Rag, and The Entertainer.  This last rag would become famous again in modern times, as the theme music for the movie The Sting.  Joplin also wrote rag ballads and rag operas.

In 1907, Joplin moved to New York.  The next year, he published The School of Ragtime--Six Exercises for Piano.  His book of piano exercises became very popular.  Scott Joplin had finally proved to his father that he could make a good living from music.  In 1908, he married Lottie Stokes, who became his greatest fan.

Scott could not interest anyone in the project that was dearest to him.  This was an opera called Treemonisha.  It contained all kinds of Black music--folksongs, spirituals, ragtime, and blues.  Education, as the means to save Black people, was the theme of the opera.

Finally in 1911, Joplin published the opera himself.  However, he could not convince anyone to put it on stage.  He became so heartbroken that he had a nervous breakdown and had to enter the hospital.  He never really regained his health.  Scott Joplin died in New York City on April 1, 1917.

However, Scott Joplin's music lives on.  In recent years many of his songs have been re-discovered.  Major orchestras now play ragtime music.  Jazz musicians speak of him as one of the pioneers of their arts.  And, in homes and schools around the world, music lovers sit down at their pianos and plunk out ragtime tunes--thanks to Scott Joplin.

Excerpt from A Gift of Heritage Historic Blacks in the Arts.

This is only a summary of the life of the great musician Scott Joplin.