Scott Joplin (c.1867–1917)
Sometime between July 1867 and January 1868, somewhere in Texas, USA. (Many books say he was born on 24th November 1868 in Texarkana, Texas, but there is no real evidence for this.)
Scott Joplin’s grave in New York
1st April 1917 in New York, New York, USA.
Saint Michaels Cemetery, East Elmhurst, Queens County, New York, USA.
Some famous pieces:
- The Entertainer.
- Maple Leaf Rag. (See below for a video.)
A great recording:
- King of Ragtime (c.1898–1913).
This is recorded from piano rolls—Scott Joplin did not actually make any recordings. A piano roll is a roll of paper with holes in it. This paper is fed into a special piano called a player piano. The player piano then reads the roll and plays itself! (See below for a picture of a player piano.)
Some interesting facts:
- He was the greatest composer of ‘ragtime’. In fact he is often called the ‘King of Ragtime’. (Ragtime is a mixture of Black American folk music and classical music. It is not quite jazz, but is certainly where a lot of the ideas for jazz came from.)
- He made ragtime very popular. This made people ready to hear and write the jazz that came afterwards. It also set the scene for American popular music over the last century. Put simply, Scott Joplin has had a very big influence on jazz and popular music over the last 100 years.
- Like classical music, Scott Joplin’s rags are written down exactly. They are pieces to be played as written on the piano. This is quite different from jazz, where it is normal for the musicians to make up some of the music as they play.
- He became famous with his piece ‘Maple Leaf Rag’. This piece appeared in 1899. It sold over 75,000 copies in the first six months! The piece was named after the Maple Leaf Club where Scott Joplin used to play the piano.
- His father had been a slave.
- He was very lucky to learn music. Most Black American children around the time Scott Joplin was born would not have had this chance. His father certainly didn’t want him to learn music. However his mother was keen. And a kind local music teacher taught him for free.
- He also composed two operas as well as some other classical music. Scott Joplin tried very hard to make these operas popular, but didn’t succeed. In the end he died very disappointed with the failure of his operas.
- After Scott Joplin died, ragtime music was almost forgotten about as jazz became popular.
- His music became popular again in the 1970s—especially when ‘The Entertainer’ was used in the 1973 film ‘The Sting’. His music has been popular ever since!
Here is video of a piano roll recording of Scott Joplin playing some of his own music.
A piano roll recording of Scott Joplin playing some of his own music
A player piano
‘Maple Leaf Rag’ by Scott Joplin
- Scott Joplin. This photograph is dated 17th June 1907. The image is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
- Scott Joplin’s grave in New York. This photograph was uploaded to the Find A Grave website by Curtis Jackson. Curtis has informed me that, as far as he knows, the image is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this image.
- A player piano. This is a photograph of the roll mechanism of a 1927 Welte-Mignon reproducing piano. It was taken by the user Gerhard51 on Wikipedia. The image is free to use providing one credits the photographer. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
- SCOTT JOPLIN ORIGINAL PIANO ROLLS. SCOTT JOPLIN ORIGINAL PIANO ROLLS.
- Scott Joplin – Maple Leaf Rag. The person who posted this on YouTube writes: About the speed: I strived to play it at this specific speed and I think it is appropriate and not excessive. Of course, you’re entitled to have your own opinion though. There is more information about this one on the video’s YouTube page.