Scott Joplin - The Ragtime Piano Man
by Charles H. Keller
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Scott Joplin (1868 - 1917)

By 1898 Joplin had sold six pieces for the piano. Of the six, only "Original Rags", a compilation of existing melodies that he wrote collaboratively, is a ragtime piece.

Becoming the first instrumental to sell over one million copies, "Maple Leaf Rag" boosted Joplin to the top of the list of ragtime performers and moved ragtime into prominence as a musical form.

With a growing national reputation based on the success of "Maple Leaf Rag", Joplin moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in early 1900 with his new wife, Belle. Belle was a sister-in-law of Scott Hayden, who collaborated with Joplin in the composition of four rags. While living in St. Louis from 1900 to 1903, he produced some of his best-known works, "The Entertainer", "Elite Syncopations", "March Majestic", and "Ragtime Dance".

Perhaps his dearest love, Freddie Alexander, died on September 10, 1904, of complications resulting from a cold, two months after their weddings. Joplin's first work copyrighted after Freddie's death, "Bethena" (1905), is a very sad, musically complex ragtime waltz.

In 1907 Scott Joplin moved to New York City, where he met Lottie Stokes, whom he married in 1909. Despite months of faltering, Joplin continued writing and publishing. During this period, he produced the award-winning opera Treemonisha, although the score to his earlier ragtime, A Guest of Honor, is lost. Treemonisha was never fully staged during Joplin's lifetime, and its sole performance was a concert read-through with piano in 1915 at the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, New York City, funded by Joplin himself. One of Joplin's friends, Sam Patterson, described this performance as "thin and unconvincing, little better than a rehearsal... its special quality (would have been) lost on the typical Harlem audience that was sophisticated enough to reject their folk past but not sufficiently so to relish a return to it". In 1913, Scott and Lottie formed the Scott Joplin Music Company, which published his "Magnetic Rag."

In mid-January 1917 Joplin was hospitalized at Manhattan State Hospital in New York City, and friends recounted that he would have bursts of lucidity in which he would jot down lines of music hurriedly before relapsing. Joplin died there on April 1, 1917. Joplin was 49 or 50 years of age (his exact birth date is unknown).

In a modest walk-up flat at 2658A Delmar Boulevard, Scott Joplin and his new bride Belle began their life in St. Louis. It was then called Morgan Street, a busy, densely populated, blue-collar district of African-Americans and German immigrants. Located nearby were the honky-tonks and dives of the notorious Chestnut Valley. This black musical genius, buoyed by his success with the Maple Leaf Rag, was making his move toward the national arena. He would soon be known as the "King of Ragtime."

Lit by gaslight, and appropriately furnished for 1902, the Joplin flat where many ragtime classics were composed awaits your visit. The building also has museum exhibits interpreting Joplin's life and work, and St. Louis during the ragtime era. Visit this landmark and feel the history of St. Louis come alive for your family.


In 1899, Joplin sold one of his most famous compositions to a Sedalia, Missouri publisher John Stark & Son. He received a one-cent royalty on each copy sold and 10 copies for his own use.

A United States stamp honoring Scott Joplin was minted in 1983.

Scott Joplin House State Historic Site