Scott Joplin’s ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ Kicks Off Black History Month

Scott Joplin’s ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ Kicks Off Black History Month

At a schoolwide assembly held on the first day of Black History Month, Lower Division Administrative Assistant Grace Han performed Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." Ms. Han is an accomplished pianist who studied at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music.

Dr. Sam Nester, Director of Brass Bands, shared some background about Joplin, a pioneering American composer:

When Scott Joplin, the “King of Ragtime” came to town, news spread fast. His piano compositions were a hit in the saloons of the Midwest, and he is considered to have put St. Louis on the musical map. He became revered in high-society parlors of Europe, and he made a significant contribution to the American musical landscape.

It was Joplin’s mother who found ways to encourage her musically gifted son. Outside of family evenings full of banjo and fiddle music, Joplin’s mother, who cleaned houses for a living, would often bargain with homeowners to work for free on certain days, in exchange for allowing her son to practice on their pianos. In his teen years, Joplin left home to travel the country, determined to find work as a musician.

Despite the difficulties surrounding his musical journey, after he appeared at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Joplin caught the attention of John Stark, a Montana businessman, who purchased rights to Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.” At the time of its publication in 1899, it was a huge sensation, with all 10,000 copies selling in record time.

Joplin’s signature ragtime style, heard here in “Maple Leaf Rag,” was a nontraditional type of piano playing, as if he were doodling with his fingers, or “ragged playing,” as it was then called. He became the most influential figure in ragtime music, and in addition to “Maple Leaf Rag,” he left an important mark on music history with hits including “Gladiolus Rag,”  and his most well known work, “The Entertainer.”