9.19: Scott Joplin
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Joplin was born and raised in Texarkana, on the border between Texas and Arkansas. His father, an ex-slave, scraped together enough money to buy a piano for his musically inclined son, who soon taught himself to play with remarkable facility. In his early teens Joplin left home to seek a musical career in St. Louis, Chicago, and Sedalia, Missouri, finally moving to New York in 1907. Joplin’s compositions include about 50 rags for piano, a folk ballet, and two operas. Though the earliest of his operas, A Guest of Honor, has been lost, the second,Treemonisha, was completed in 1910 and though never fully staged at the time has since become a staple of the operatic repertoire. His early piano rags, especially “Maple Leaf Rag” of 1899, brought him considerable fame and fortune and earned him the title King of Ragtime. But with the passing of the ragtime craze after the first decade of the new century, and the increasing complexity of his compositions, Joplin found little appreciation for his work. Afflicted by syphilis, Joplin’s health declined until his death in 1917.