Jazz Composer. Known as the "King of Ragtime," he is best remembered for his tune, "The Entertainer", which was popularized in the movie "The Sting" (1973), for which it won an Academy Award for Best Film Scoring. His opera "Treemonisha"(written in 1907), won a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 when it was brought to Broadway. Born near Linden, Texas, his family moved to Texarkana, Texas when he was age seven. Encouraged by his parents, he learned to play the banjo and piano, and in his late teens, began a career as a dance hall musician. After many years playing in saloons and brothels, he settled in St. Louis, Missouri about 1890, where he studied the music genre know now as “Ragtime”, a blend of European classical styles and African American harmonies and rhythm. In 1894, Joplin moved to Sedalia, Missouri, where he played at local social clubs and where he began composing music. In 1898, he tried to publish his first two ragtime tunes, but only "Original Rags"(1898) was sold. In 1899, he sold "The Maple Leaf Rag" to a publisher, which became his first real success, and earning him a small royalty income, which encouraged him to write other tunes. Shortly after this, he wrote "The Ragtime Dance" which included stage work for dancers and a singing narrator. In 1901, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he became associated with ragtime pioneer, Tom Turpin. During this time, he taught music and wrote more compositions. In 1901, he met Alfred Ernst, conductor of the St. Louis Choral Symphony Society, who thought Joplin was a musical genius as a composer, and helped him succeed. In the next two years (1901 to 1902), Joplin wrote "Sunflower Slow Drag", "Peacherine Rag", "The Easy Winners", "Cleopha", "The Strenuous Life" (his tribute to Theodore Roosevelt), "A Breeze from Alabama", "Elite Syncopations", "The Entertainer", and "The Ragtime Dance". His first opera, in 1903, was "A Guest of Honor," which was about the black leader, Booker T. Washington's dinner at the White House with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901. In 1904, he went to St. Louis for the World's Fair, where his ragtime tune, "Cascades" received much favorable attention. In June 1904, he divorced his first wife and married a woman he met while visiting relatives in Arkansas. Unfortunately, she died ten weeks after their marriage of pneumonia, from a cold she developed during their honeymoon. After her death, Joplin left Sedalia, never to return, and his career faltered. He survived by playing for money, but continued to compose, writing a few ragtime tunes. In 1907, he published "Treemonisha" an opera that he had been writing over the previous five years. While he continued to write ragtime tunes, getting some published, and in 1911, Irvin Berlin published "Alexander's Ragtime Band," a tune that Joplin charged that was taken from his "A Real Slow Drag" tune from the opera "Treemonisha." However, he decided not to sue the wealthy and influential Berlin. By 1916, he was suffering from tertiary syphilis, which he had contracted some twenty years earlier, and he died in New York City, New York in 1917. He fell into obscurity, but jazz musicians revived his work in the 1940s, and the movie, "The Sting" (1973) brought him critical acclaim and to the attention of the public. In 1976, the Pulitzer Committee awarded him a posthumous award for his contributions to American music.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson