Scott Joplin : 1867/1868 – April 1, 1917) was an African-American composer and pianist. Joplin achieved fame for his ragtime compositions and was dubbed the "King of Ragtime Writers". During his brief career, he wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas. One of his first pieces, the "Maple Leaf Rag", became ragtime's first and most influential hit, and has been recognized as the archetypal rag.
Joplin was born into a musical family of railway laborers in Northeast Texas, and developed his musical knowledge with the help of local teachers. Joplin grew up in Texarkana, where he formed a vocal quartet, and taught mandolin and guitar. During the late 1880s he left his job as a laborer with the railroad, and travelled around the American South as an itinerant musician. He went to Chicago for the World's Fair of 1893, which played a major part in making ragtime a national craze by 1897.
The combination of classical music, the musical atmosphere present around Texarkana (including work songs, gospel hymns, spirituals and dance music) and Joplin's natural ability has been cited as contributing significantly to the invention of a new style that blended African-American musical styles with European forms and melodies, and first became celebrated in the 1890s:
When Joplin was learning the piano, serious musical circles condemned ragtime because of its association with the vulgar and inane songs "...cranked out by the tune-smiths of Tin Pan Alley." As a composer Joplin refined ragtime, elevating it above the low and unrefined form played by the "...wandering honky-tonk pianists... playing mere dance music" of popular imagination. This new art form, the classic rag, combined Afro-American folk music's syncopation and 19th-century European romanticism, with its harmonic schemes and its march-like tempos. In the words of one critic, "Ragtime was basically... an Afro-American version of the polka, or its analog, the Sousa-style march." With this as a foundation, Joplin intended his compositions to be played exactly as he wrote them – without improvisation. Joplin wrote his rags as "classical" music in miniature form in order to raise ragtime above its "cheap bordello" origins and produced work that opera historian Elise Kirk described as, "... more tuneful, contrapuntal, infectious, and harmonically colorful than any others of his era."
Some speculate that Joplin's achievements were influenced by his classically trained German music teacher Julius Weiss, who may have brought a polka rhythmic sensibility from the old country to the 11-year old Joplin. As Curtis put it, "The educated German could open up the door to a world of learning and music of which young Joplin was largely unaware."
Joplin's first and most significant hit, the "Maple Leaf Rag", was described as the archetype of the classic rag, and influenced subsequent rag composers for at least 12 years after its initial publication thanks to its rhythmic patterns, melody lines, and harmony, though with the exception of Joseph Lamb, they generally failed to enlarge upon it.