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April 2017

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U.S. Census Bureau History: Scott Joplin—The King of Ragtime

Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin was born on November 24, 1868, and died at age 48 on
April 1, 1917. Joplin was famous for his piano style and compositions
earning him the nickname "King of Ragtime."

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On April 1, 1917, Scott Joplin—the "King of Ragtime"—passed away at New York City's Manhattan State Hospital. During his brief career, the musician wrote a ballet, two operas, and 44 original ragtime compositions, including "The Maple Leaf Rag," one of the ragtime genre's earliest and most influential compositions, along with others that continue to feature prominently in movies, television, and theater.

Scott Joplin was born in northeast Texas (his gravestone claims on November 24, 1868), to railway laborers Florence Givens and Giles Joplin. Joplin grew up in Texarkana, TX, where he studied piano and taught mandolin and guitar. In the 1880s, he worked as an itinerant musician and traveled throughout the southern United States performing in minstrel shows. In 1893, Joplin composed and performed music at the Chicago World's Fair to delighted audiences and moved to Sedalia, MO, in 1894. In Sedalia, he performed in the city's dance halls and clubs, composed music, and taught piano lessons to aspiring ragtime musicians Brun Campbell, Scott Hayden, and Arthur Marshall.

Less than 2 years after William Krell published the first ragtime composition ("Mississippi Rag") in 1897, Joplin copyrighted "Original Rags"—his first "rag"—in March 1899. In August of that year, Joplin signed a contract with Sedalia, MO, musical instrument retailer John Stillwell Stark to publish his music. He released "The Maple Leaf Rag"—one of his most popular works—the following month.

In the early 1900s, Joplin moved to St. Louis, MO, where he began collaborating with his former piano student Scott Hayden to write "The Entertainer" and other works. He moved to New York in 1907, where he staged a disastrous single performance of an operatic work titled Treemonisha before an audience of critics and potential investors. He self-published his last rag—"Magnetic Rag"—in 1914. Suffering from dementia, Joplin was admitted to New York City's Manhattan State Hospital in January 1917 and died there on April 1, 1917. He was buried in an unmarked grave in East Elmhurst (Queens Borough), NY.

Although the popularity of ragtime music declined in the 1910s as jazz, swing, and other musical genres rose to replace it, Joplin's work was not forgotten. The composer achieved his greatest fame posthumously as new generations of musicians and audiences discovered his music. In the 1930s, musicians Tommy Dorsey and Jelly Roll Morton released recordings of Joplin's work. The National Academy of Popular Music inducted Joplin into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, and a 2-volume record set of his music became a bestseller and Grammy Award nominee in 1971. In 1973, composer Marvin Hamlisch adapted Joplin's music for the Academy Award-winning Best Picture, The Sting and earned Hamlisch the Oscar for Best Original Song Score and Adaptation in 1974. That same year, Joplin's grave finally received a marker. After excerpts of Joplin's Treemonisha—the opera that bankrupted the composer—were performed at the Lincoln Center and Morehouse College in 1971 and 1972, the Houston Grand Opera staged a full operatic production the work in May 1975, followed by an 8-week run at New York's Palace Theatre. In 1976, Joplin received a special Pulitzer Prize "for his contributions to American music" and the home he rented in St. Louis, MO, from 1900 to 1903 became a National Historic Landmark.

Today, ragtime enthusiasts continue to celebrate the music and the musician who pioneered the genre each year in Sedalia, MO. Between May 31 to June 3, 2017, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation hosts the 36th annual Scott Joplin International Ragtme Festival Link to a non-federal Web site.

Learn more about Scott Joplin, Ragtime, and the entertainers he influenced using data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies. For example:

  • Scott Joplin was born in Cass County, TX, and spent his childhood in Texarkana, TX. The city of Texarkana, TX, was founded in 1873, and during the 1880 Census, the city's population was recorded to have 1,833 residents. It's population grew to 5,256 by 1900. More recently, the Census Bureau estimated Texarkana, TX, was home to 37,280 in 2015.
  • Scott Joplin formed a band and played a cornet (a brass instrument similar to the trumpet) at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. In 1890, Chicago was the nation's second largest city with a population of 1,099,850, growing from just 29,963 in 1850. In 2015, Chicago had a population of 2,720,546, placing it third behind the cities of Los Angeles, CA (3,971,883), and New York City, NY ( 8,550,405).
  • Scott Joplin moved to Sedalia, MO, in the mid-1890s to study music at the George R. Smith College for Negroes. Following a 1925 fire, the school's assets merged with Philander Smith College, in Little Rock, AR.
  • Scott Joplin published the "Maple Leaf Rag" in 1899 and may have named the composition—one of the most famous ragtime tunes ever written—after the Maple Leaf Club where he played piano. Joplin was known as "The Entertainer" in many Sedalia clubs, a nickname he shared with another of his classic ragtime songs published in 1902. The Recording Industry Association of America, National Endowment for the Arts, and Scholastic, Inc., ranked the "The Entertainer" at "#10" in its 2001 "Songs of the Century" list, surpassing classics like "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets, "God Bless America" by Kate Smith, "Blueberry Hill" by Fats Domino and the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."
  • At the height of ragtime music's popularity, the number of establishments manufacturing pianos and organs in the United States grew from 381 in 1889 to 507 in 1909. The industry employed 41,882 in 1909, with the majority working in the states of New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts. In 2012, the economic census found that the nation was home to 594 musical instrument and parts manufacturing establishments that employed 11,407.
  • Scott Joplin wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, a ballet ("The Ragtime Dance") and two operas ("The Guest of Honor" and "Treemonisha") during his lifetime. He sold his work as sheet music, piano rolls, gramophone disks (similar to records) and wax cylinders that could be played on a cylinder phonograph invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 and popular at the height of the ragtime craze. Between 1899 and 1909, the total value of phonographs, graphopones, records, blanks, and other music recording and playing products grew from $2,246,274 to $11,725,996—422 percent! In 2008, American sound recording industries had an estimated revenue of more than $21 billion. In 2009, the music industry sold $4.77 billion worth of compact disks and other physical media and $2.97 billion of digital media like downloads and subscription services.
  • Scott Joplin, Ernest Hogan, George Botsford, John W. "Blind" Boone, Claude Debussy,Vess Ossman, and Fred Van Eps were some of the earliest composers of ragtime music. They inspired a wave of ragtime and jazz musicians in the early decades of the 1900s, including: Arthur Marshall, Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, Mike Bernard, Fats Waller, and Wilbur Sweatman.
  • The 1900 Census counted 92,264 musicians or music teachers in the United States. In 1950, 166,000 people identified as "musicians" or "music teachers." In 2010, there were 182,000 musicians, singers, and related workers in the United States—31.9 percent were female, 13.9 percent were Black, 8.7 percent were Hispanic, and 2.1 percent were Asian.

  • Scott Joplin Sheet Music

    Scott Joplin wrote 44 ragtime compositions, including "The Maple Leaf Rag"—one of the most well-known tunes in the ragtime genre. Despite earning the
    title of "The King of Ragtime," Joplin died in poverty in 1917 as ragtime's popularity declined as a result of the growing popularity of jazz and swing music.

    Alexander Graham Bell
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    This Month in Census History

    On April 10, 1928, Senator Coleman L. Blease (D–SC) rebuked Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover for ending racial segregation at the U.S. Census Bureau.

    Hoover's actions were a result of criticisms against the federal government by Neval H. Thomas, president of the Washington DC, chapter of the NAACP.

    Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

    St. Louis, MO, skyline
    View larger image

    St. Louis, MO

    Scott Joplin moved to St. Louis, MO, in 1900, where he composed rags like "The Entertainer" and "The Easy Winners."

    The 1900 Census found that St. Louis was the nation's fourth largest city with a population of 575,238.

    The city's population peaked in 1950 at 856,796 and began declining in 1960 as the suburbs grew. By 2015, the Census Bureau estimated its population was 315,685.

    Did You Know?

    Ragtime's popularity peaked between 1900 and 1915. During that time, the nation's population grew from about 76 million to 99 million and Oklahoma (1907), New Mexico (1912), and Arizona (1912) joined the Union.

    In the news, an assassin shot President William McKinley; natural disasters devastated Galveston, TX, and San Francisco, CA; Ford introduced the Model T; Percival Lowell contemplated distant planets; and Babe Ruth hit his first major league "homer."

    Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 08, 2021