Black History Month: Profiling Music Innovator Scott Joplin

For the last 52 years, we have celebrated the accomplishments of African American men and women from the past who used their knowledge, talents, or voice to impact our world and shape our future. Some of those accomplishments include innovations in history, science, medicine, and music.  

Scott Joplin was such an innovator. He was an African American composer and a pianist who used his talents and passion to shape the music world.  

According to https://historicmissourians.shsmo.org/scott-joplin, Scott, one of six children in the Joplin family, was a native of northeastern Texas. Giles and Florence Joplin were Scott’s parents, who were respectively a worker and house cleaner. Both of his parents were musically inclined, which must have had some influence on his life. Through his mother’s employer, Joplin was introduced to piano at a young age.

In his teenage years, Joplin began to perform. He was able to play the piano, violin, cornet, and he could sing. He played a vast variety of music, including certain musical characteristics from African American songs. 

Ready to travel on his own, Joplin visited several different places and met people who would influence him in his music career. Otis Saunders is greatly appreciated for giving Joplin the push to begin writing down his songs created to entertain his audiences during a performance. 

In the music world, Scott Joplin is known as the “King of Ragtime” because he played an important part in the development of ragtime music. 

Ragtime is a form of music popular in cities such as St. Louis. In his career, Joplin composed over 40 pieces, which included songs like “The Entertainer.” The song would be used as the theme song for the Academy-Award-winning movie The Sting in 1977, thus leading to a resurgence of ragtime.

According to https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035811/, ragtime is not easily defined but it is agreed by the majority that the common definition of ragtime is “a genre of musical composition for the piano, generally in duple meter and containing a highly syncopated treble lead over a rhythmically steady bass.” 

In his music, Joplin combined different components from classical music and African American tunes.  He is credited with placing the foundation for jazz. 

Joplin is also known for giving other African American artists a platform during a time where they would normally be overlooked. 

Today we can look back and appreciate the contributions that Scott Joplin made for African Americans in music.


Scott Joplin