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Scott Joplin



Scott Joplin was born in Texarkana, Texas in the 1870s, to a former slave and his freeborn wife. He had few opportunities for an education, but his family was very musical. His early life is undocumented, but it is known that he travelled extensively, playing the cornet with bands, and with Ragtime pioneer Tom Turpin. He was also a gifted pianist, and received free piano lessons with a local German pianist.

In 1894, he was in Sedalia, Missouri, where he joined a band called the Queen City Coronet Band, playing lead cornet, and later formed a band of his own. During the 1890s, Joplin both attended music college in Sedalia and taught up-and-coming ragtime pianists. Then, in 1898, he began performing as a pianist at the Maple Leaf Club, made famous by Joplin's best-known composition, the Maple Leaf Rag. The following year, he sold the piece to John Stark & Son for a one-cent royalty. It was rare for black composers of the day to be give any royalties, and this unusual arrangement made Joplin over $300 a year for the rest of his life.

In 1901 Joplin moved to St Louis, where he collaborated with Scott Hayden on Sunflower Slow Drag. There, he also met Belle, the widow of Hayden's older brother. He married Belle, but they separated soon after, following the tragic death of their daughter. In 1903, his first opera, A Guest of Honour began a five-state tour. However, the opera met with disaster when box office receipts were stolen. All copies of the opera and many of Joplin's personal possessions were confiscated as collateral, and because the copy sent to the Library of Congress failed to arrive, the work is now lost.

In 1903, Joplin visited Arkansas where he met the 19-year-old Freddie Alexander, to whom he later dedicated The Chrysanthemum. They married in July 1904 and travelled to Sedalia. Sadly, Freddie caught pneumonia and died on 10 September. During 1904, he wrote The Cascades as a musical description of the lagoons and fountains seen at the St Louis World Fair.

Four years later, Joplin moved to New York, where he was to spend the rest of his life. Here he met Joseph Lamb, and encouraged the young ragtime composer, suggesting that his Sensation be published. Joplin thrived in New York, publishing many fine works, such as Pineapple Rag, Solace and Euphonic Sounds. However, his second opera, Treemonisha (1910), also met with failure. The distinctly cool reception given to the only performance of this work in 1915 was one of the greatest disappointments of Joplin's life, made even more bitter by the fact that Joplin had paid for the performance himself.

By 1916, Joplin was suffering from syphilis, and by mid-January 1917, he was hospitalised in Manhatten State Hospital. He died there, on 1 April 1917. His funeral was a small affair, attended only by his third wife, Lottie Stokes Joplin, and a few friends. He is buried in St. Michael's Cemetary in the Astoria section of Queens.

3 August 2004





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