Collections Blog

Collections Blog

“The King of Ragtime Writers”: Scott Joplin and His Music

Old State House Museum - Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Scott Joplin was born sometime between July 1867 and January 1868 and raised in Texarkana, Arkansas. As a child, his mother encouraged his musical education, which led Joplin to study with German music teacher Julius Weiss. Weiss instilled the emphasis of European music forms, such as the opera and the march, on Joplin — an influence which is evident throughout his entire musical career.

Joplin’s most famous piano rag, “Maple Leaf Rag,” was published in 1899. This rag inspired some of Joplin’s latter piano rags such as “Bethena,” “Sarah Dear,” and “Leola” and also laid the ground work for Joplin’s reputation as well as justified his title as the “King of Ragtime Writers.” During his life, Joplin traveled throughout Arkansas, Missouri, New York, and Chicago performing in various groups, at various venues, and published numerous compositions including rags, marches, and operas.

After the death of his second wife in September of 1904, Joplin landed on hard times with his career and financially. After falling behind on his rent in New York City, Joplin had to vacate his apartment and left his piano behind. The landowner had kept the piano in his family and in 2003 the Old State House Museum purchased it for our music exhibit, “Our Own Sweet Sounds II.” The piano, along with sheet music of some of his compositions, now resides in the museum’s permanent collection.