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Scott Joplin: Biography, Songs & Facts

Instructor: Laurna Taylor

Laurna has taught Art History and Information Literacy and has a masters degree in leadership of educational organizations.

This lesson will go over Scott Joplin and the influence he had on American music. Joplin was an African American piano player and a composer in the late 1800s and early 1900s and has been recognized as one of the founding fathers of the ragtime musical genre.

Who Is Scott Joplin?

If someone had asked this question 70 years ago, they may have heard crickets. But today is a much different story. Scott Joplin was an African-American composer and musician who eventually became well-known for spearheading a genre called ragtime. A new and unique kind of music, ragtime was mostly notable for its 'ragged' rhythm. Although not all of the details of Joplin's life have surfaced (even his grave remained unmarked until the 1970s) and his place in history took some time to gain momentum, he created a legacy through his influence on American music.

Joplin was likely born in Texas in 1868 and resided there for much of his early years after his family left the farm where his father had worked as a slave. It is thought that Joplin was exposed to music, including the piano, at an early age through a piano teacher in a white household where his mother worked. The instructor took an interest in Joplin's talents and taught him about classical composers and opera.

Joplin later learned to play the coronet and traveled, playing and conducting in different bands and musical groups. One of these groups even played at the World's Fair on Chicago in 1893. Joplin moved to St. Louis in 1900, where he wrote many of his compositions, including the Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer. His first opera, A Guest of Honor, was performed by a theater group that Joplin had put together.

Joplin was married in 1904, but the marriage was short-lived as his wife died of pneumonia only ten weeks after they were married. Joplin composed more than 40 ragtime pieces over the course of his life and died in 1917 due to complications from syphilis. In the 1960s and 70s, Joplin's work regained some of its popularity, and in 1970 Joplin was inducted in to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1976 he was given a Pulitzer Prize (posthumously) for his opera Treemonisha.

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