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Joplin, Scott

Joplin, Scott

Born in 1868


Inducted in 1998

Scott Joplin worked with the piano rag with the seriousness with which Chopin worked with the waltz and the mazurka, in pursuit of a similar excellence and similar recognition. He grew up in Texarkana, on the Texas-Arkansas border. His father, a former slave, and his mother, a freeborn black woman, encouraged their children's interest in music, and the mother played an important role in educating them. The young Joplin also came into contact with a German born musician, Julius Weiss, who gave him piano lessons and instilled in him the professional standards that were to remain guideposts throughout his life. Sometime between 1884 and 1888 Joplin left Texarkana as an itinerant musician. In 1890 he became associated with another ragtime pioneer, Tom Turpin, in St. Louis. Then he went to Chicago, where he met other early ragtime musicians and led a band at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, bringing ragtime to a broad public for the first time. Two years later his first pieces, two "waltz songs," were published in Syracuse, New York, where he apparently performed with his quartet. In 1896 Joplin settled in Sedalia, Missouri, where he attended music classes at the George R. Smith College, taught piano and composition to other aspiring ragtime composers, and played the cornet in local bands. In Sedalia he also played the piano at the Maple Leaf Club, whose name he gave to the piano rag that was to become the most famous of all piano rags; and it was there, in 1899, that he met John Stillwell Stark, who would publish many of his compositions for some 20 years. Joplin's first published piano rags Original Rags and Maple Leaf Rag were published that year, and within ten years more than a half million copies of the latter were sold, earning royalties that enabled him to spend his time teaching and composing. He eventually published a total of 39 piano rags, seven of them written jointly with other composers. Joplin settled in New York in 1907. In 1976 his previously unsuccessful opera Treemonisha earned for Joplin the first Pulitzer Prize in Music ever presented posthumously. He was also honored on a commemorative U.S. postage stamp issued in 1983.