The Impact of "The King of Ragtime" Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin, also known as the “King of Ragtime,” was an extraordinary pianist and composer whose work has inspired many composers and is played today. Joplin’s impact on the piano and American music cannot be denied. His unique style of composition, which would become ragtime, changed the trajectory of the American music scene. And this music would go on to influence generations of musicians to come.
Who was Scott Joplin?
Scott Joplin was born in 1868 in Texarcana, Texas and was the second of six children. Music was a huge part of his childhood. His father was a laborer and former slave who played the violin at plantation parties. And his mother was a singer and banjo player. At the age of 7, Joplin began taking piano lessons from a German music teacher who lived in Texarcana. In his teens, Joplin left to be a traveling musician and for a short time, he was a member of the Texarcana Minstrel Group. However, as a black pianist, Joplin could not find much work.
His music career began to take a positive turn after he began studying music, teaching, and mentoring students at Sedalia’s George R. Smith College for Negroes. He published his first rag piece, “Original Rag,” in 1899. And although he did not receive a lot of money for “Original Rag.” He would receive a penny for every sheet sold for his next composition, “Maple Leaf Rag,” which sold over 75,000 copies and is still known as the most popular piece of rag.
“The King of Ragtime”
Scott Joplin popularized what is known as “classic rag.” Ragtime music is a genre of American music with a highly syncopated lead treble. Ragtime is usually a piano composition in duple meter. The genre grew in popularity quickly during the 1890’s into the 1920’s. The genre lead to the increase demand for piano’s and the ranks of music to change. Primarily originated in the Southern and Midwestern United States, ragtime stemmed from Negro Slave music.
Joplin was deemed the “King of Ragtime,” because of his contribution to rag music. His piece, “Maple Leaf Rag,” sold over one million copies, the most copies sold of any Negro musician at the time. “Maple Leaf Rag,” brought more depth and sophistication into the genre than earlier rag compositions. Joplin is also known for his pieces, “The Entertainer,” “Solace,” and “The Chrysanthemum.”
The Legacy of Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin died in 1917 due to syphilis, around the same time that ragtime died down in the American music scene. However, around the 1970’s, ragtime had a revival and Joplin’s legacy in the genre was profound. During this period, his work became critically renowned. The 1973 movie, The Sting, featured his piece “The Composition,” contributing to the rising popularity of rag in the ’70’s. The movie would go on to win an academy for it’s score. The opera that he wrote, Treemonisha, awarded Joplin a Pulitzer, for being the first grand opera written by an African American. In 1970, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame by the National Academy of Popular Music. As well as inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987. Sedalia, Missouri, the city where Joplin studied and taught, calls itself the “Cradle of Ragtime.” And yearly hosts the “Scott Joplin Music Festival,” which honors the life and work of Scott Joplin.
In conclusion, ragtime is one of the earliest forms of documented African American music. With elements of classical music and the rhythm and syncopation of traditional slave music, ragtime slept the country. And Scott Joplin was at the forefront. He published compositions like “Maple Leaf Rag,” and “The Entertainer,” which are still played throughout America today. His legacy to music is shown through the festival dedicated to his life and music. As well as his inductions into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. Although Joplin’s death was untimely, his influence on music in America is profound.