Not even the experts agree

So, the issue with Scott Joplin that’s had me stumped is whether or not he performed at the Chicago World’s Fair (the “Columbian Exposition”) in 1893 and if so, in what capacity. Everyone agrees he was in Chicago at the time of the Fair, and that it was life-changing for him, in part because he met Otis Saunders, who became his best friend. It seems unlikely that a Black man would have been invited to play in the concert hall. But some think he and his band, the Texas Medley Quartette, may have played more informally on the Midway.

I’ve chosen to follow that interpretation in Horse Thief 1898. It also seems clear that Joplin and his band (cornet, clarinet, tuba, and baritone) played in the taverns surrounding the Fair site. That’s where ragtime as a genre took off, attracting crowds of white men as well as Black. It was the first time Joplin thought Black music had a chance at respectability, according to biographer James Haskins, though it would be several years yet before Joplin won the title, “King of Ragtime.”

As I write this, I’m listening to renowned flutist Rampal play Scott Joplin. It’s one of five Joplin CDs I checked out from my local library, among many other options. Joplin would have been astounded. He struggled all his life to convince classical musicians that his music deserved a place in their repertoires. Certainly this would not have happened had he not succeeded in another of his struggles: to publish his music, so it could be passed down through generations.

Joplin has been quoted as saying “Twenty-five years after my death, people will appreciate my music.” Some say he said fifty years instead of twenty-five. In any case, fifty years after his death, his music achieved recognition and respect. It was performed on concert stages around the world, stages from which he had been barred. Recordings of his music have sold millions of copies. His ragtime has been adapted and popularized as themes for soundtracks, popular songs, and background music. Ragtime strongly influenced the next big musical development: jazz. His story has been retold in dozens of books, for children and for adults.

How sad that Joplin did not experience this appreciation during his own life time.

I’ll post more about Scott Joplin’s life under Historical Figures as soon as I get it written! Meanwhile, why not check out a CD or one of the many Joplin biographies, or watch again one of the movies that made his music famous: “The Sundance Kid.”

Butch Cassidy, by the way, shows up in Book 2 of the Cally and Charlie series, Treasure Hunt 1904. I’m having so much fun writing this book!

Happy Labor Day!


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