Scott Joplin, born November 24, 1868, was an American composer and pianist who is known as the King of Ragtime. He is credited with over 100 ragtime compositions during his lifetime (a genre of music that was born in the African-American community and popularized in the 20th century by Joplin), one ragtime ballet, and two operas. His piece, “Maple Leaf Rag,” was the first ever ragtime hit and is considered the archetypal rag. Joplin could sing and play the mandolin and guitar. His passing in 1917 is considered the end of ragtime as a mainstream genre. It later developed into other forms like stride, jazz, and swing.
Joplin was born in Texarkana, Texas to Giles Joplin and Florence Givens as their second child of six. Giles Joplin worked as a railroad laborer and Florence Givens as a cleaner. The elder Joplin often played the violin and Givens sang and played the banjo, allowing the young Joplin to get a rudimentary education in music as a child. When he turned seven, he was allowed to play the piano whilst his mother cleaned. Growing up, Joplin received most of his musical education from Julius Weiss, a music professor who was employed by a local business family. By the time he was 16, Joplin was in a vocal quartet and gave mandolin and guitar lessons. He eventually gave up his job as a railway laborer to become a traveling musician. He soon learned that there was little work for Black pianists in 19th-century America – churches and brothels were his only options for a steady income. He often played pre-ragtime ‘jig-piano’ in red light districts.
The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair saw Joplin performing with a band; he played cornet and arranged their music. The exposition was met with a footfall of over 27 million visitors. The event is credited with playing a part in the spread of ragtime’s popularity. The following year saw Joplin moving toward Sedalia, Missouri. There he performed as a solo act at dances and major Black clubs in the region. Around this time he also went to Syracuse, New York, and Texas, where two businessmen from the Big Apple published his first two releases, ‘Please Say You Will’ and ‘A Picture of Her Face’ in 1895. His visit to Texas led to the publishing of three more pieces the following year. In 1897, his first rag release, “Original Rags,” was released. By 1897, ragtime had become a national craze. Joplin’s magnum opus, “Maple Leaf Rag” was officially released in 1899 and is now known as the archetypal rag. Throughout his career, Joplin was credited with over 100 ragtime compositions during his lifetime, one ragtime ballet, and two operas.
Joplin was married thrice in his life; to Belle Jones in 1901, to Freddie Alexander in 1905, and Lottie Stokes in 1909. He died in April 1917 of syphilitic dementia at the age of 48.
Joplin performs at the Chicago World’s Fair.
Joplin’s first works are published.
Joplin’s first ragtime release, ‘Original Rag,’ is published.
Joplin releases ‘Maple Leaf Rag.’
Why We Love Scott Joplin
He was a legendary composer
Joplin was a living legend in his time. The King of Ragtime’s talent was undeniable.
He followed his passion
Despite all obstacles, Joplin followed his love for music. We admire that greatly.
He loved music
Joplin’s love for music was palpable. His life was primarily dedicated to this art.
5 Surprising Facts
He viewed ragtime as classical music
Joplin viewed rag as classical music.
His mother was his biggest fan
It is speculated that one of the causal factors of Joplin’s success was Givens’ support.
He never made any recordings
All of Joplin’s releases were recorded through a player piano, wherein a piano roll was fed into the piano to make it play Joplin’s composition.
His wasn’t the first published ragtime release
The first published ragtime release was actually William Krell’s ‘Mississippi Rag.’
His music experienced a renaissance
Joplin’s music experienced a renaissance in the 1970s when his song, ‘The Entertainer,’ was used in the 1973 film, “The Sting.”
Scott Joplin FAQs
What is Scott Joplin's most famous piece?
Joplin’s most famous piece is definitely “Maple Leaf Rag.”
Where did the term ragtime come from?
‘Ragtime’ derives from the term ‘ragged timed,’ referring to syncopation or “a temporary displacement of the regular metrical accent in music caused typically by stressing the weak beat.”
Who invented ragtime?
Scott Joplin is credited with inventing ragtime.
Scott Joplin’s birthday dates