Scott Joplin: King of Ragtime

Scott Joplin, the King of Ragtime, 1910
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Musician Scott Joplin is the King of Ragtime. Joplin perfected the musical art form and published songs such as The Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer and Please Say You Will. He also composed operas such as Guest of Honor and Treemonisha. Considered one of the greatest composers of the early 20th century, Joplin inspired some of the greatest jazz musicians.

Early Life

The date and year of Joplin’s birth are unknown. However, historians believe that he was born sometime between 1867 and 1868 in Texarkana, Texas. His parents, Florence Givens and Giles Joplin were both musicians. His mother, Florence, was a singer and banjo player while his father, Giles, was a violinist.

At a young age, Joplin learned to play the guitar and then the piano and cornet.

As a teenager, Joplin left Texarkana began working as a traveling musician. He would play in bars and halls throughout the South, developing his musical sound.

Scott Joplin's Life as a Musician: A Timeline

  • 1893: Joplin plays at the Chicago World’s Fair. Joplin’s performance contributed to the national ragtime craze of 1897.
  • 1894: Relocating to Sedalia, Mo., to attend George R. Smith College and study music. Joplin also worked as a piano teacher. Some of his students, Arthur Marshall, Scott Hayden, and Brun Campbell, would become ragtime composers in their own right.
  • 1895: Begins publishing his music. Two of these songs included, Please Say You Will and A Picture of Her Face.
  • 1896: Publishes the Great Crush Collision March. Considered a “special…early essay in ragtime,” by one of Joplin’s biographers, the piece was written after Joplin witnessed the planned train crash on the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad on September 15.
  • 1897: Original Rags is published marking the popularity of ragtime music.
  • 1899: Joplin publishes Maple Leaf Rag. The song provided Joplin with fame and recognition. It also influenced other composers of ragtime music.
  • 1901: Relocates to St. Louis. He continues to publish music. His most famous works included The Entertainer and March Majestic. Joplin also composes the theatrical work The Ragtime Dance.
  • 1904: Joplin creates an opera company and produces A Guest of Honor. The company embarked on a national tour that was short lived. After box office receipts were stolen, Joplin could not afford to pay the performers
  • 1907: Moves to New York City to discover a new producer for his opera.
  • 1911 – 1915: Composes Treemonisha. Unable to find a producer, Joplin publishes the opera himself at a hall in Harlem.

Personal Life

Joplin married several times. His first wife, Belle, was the sister-in-law of musician Scott Hayden. The couple divorced after the death of their daughter. His second marriage was in 1904 to Freddie Alexander. This marriage was also short-lived as she died ten weeks later of a cold. His final marriage was to Lottie Stokes. Married in 1909, the couple lived in New York City.


In 1916, Joplin’s syphilis—that he had contracted several years earlier—began to ravage his body. Joplin died on April 1, 1917.


Although Joplin died pennilessly, he is remembered for his contribution to creating a distinctly American musical art form. 

In particular, there was a resurging interest in ragtime and the life of Joplin in the 1970s. Notable awards during this period include:

  • 1970: Joplin is inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame by the National Academy of Popular Music.
  • 1976: Awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for his contributions to American music.
  • 1977: The film Scott Joplin is produced by Motown Productions and released by Universal Pictures.
  • 1983: The United States Postal Service issues a stamp of the ragtime composer through its Black Heritage Commemorative Series.
  • 1989: Received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
  • 2002: A collection of Joplin’s performances was given to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry by the National Recording Preservation Board. 
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Your Citation
Lewis, Femi. "Scott Joplin: King of Ragtime." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Lewis, Femi. (2020, August 26). Scott Joplin: King of Ragtime. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "Scott Joplin: King of Ragtime." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).