Scott Joplin was, as the title gives away, “The King of Ragtime”. Joplin had always been musically inclined, even at a young age. By the time he was in his twenties, Joplin had been playing as an itinerant pianist in saloons for years, and in 1890 settled in St. Louis to study and develop his new genre of music called “Ragtime” (Berlin 4).
With Minstrelsy on its way out, a new form of music was emerging called Ragtime. Ragtime is an interesting genre as it is difficult to put an actual definition to. There was so much room for innovation and creativity that, much like todays pop and alternative genres is hard to verbally confine with a definition. The best way to distinguish this new music is by its use of syncopation. Syncopation involves a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected which make part or all of a tune or piece of music off-beat. The syncopation of this genre made the music lively and springy which was fresh and new.
After touring for a while with his Texas Medley Quartette, Joplin came out with one of his first compositions, “The Great Crush Collision” around 1896. This piece was inspired by a railroad locomotive crash near Waco Texas. Though this was one of his first pieces, it was not anywhere near as popular as his hit “The Maple Leaf Rag”, named after the business in which he had been working, the Maple Leaf Club. “The Maple Leaf Rag” was later followed by perhaps one of the best known Ragtime pieces of all time, “The Entertainer” (Berlin 6). Though many may not know it by name, “The Entertainer” is a tune not soon forgotten. Its spring-like and happy nature would make appearances in several comedy “Picture shows” in the future.
This is a video of “The Great Crush Collision”:
This is a video of “The Maple Leaf Rag”:
This is perhaps the one most recognized of the pieces discussed, “The Entertainer”:
Over the next two decades, Joplin added about 60 songs to his list of compositions and soon moved to New York City to pursue his “Treemonisha” which became the first grand opera composed by an African American. Though Joplin would never see Treemonisha successfully performed in his lifetime, it later won the pulitzer prize in 1976. Joplin died in 1917 at the age of 48, and like many great musicians throughout the years, didn’t receive recognition as a serious composer until nearly a half-century after his death. His musical strides, however, made much head way for African Americans to broaden their standings in the musical and compositional scene.
“History of Ragtime [article]:Article Description: Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress.” History of Ragtime [article]:Article Description: Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress. The Library of Congress, 29 Sept. 2006. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
“Maple Leaf Rag Played by Scott Joplin.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.
“Scott Joplin – The Entertainer.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Teichroew, Jacob. “Ragtime (Genre) – Origins, Characteristics, and Composers.” N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Berlin, Edward A. King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era. New York: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.