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Scott Joplin

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Texas, United States (1867 – 1917)

Scott Joplin (born between June 1867 and January 1868, died April 1, 1917) was an American musician and composer of ragtime music. He remains the best-known ragtime figure and is regarded as one of the three most important composers of classic ragtime, along with James Scott and Joseph Lamb.

Scott Joplin, the second of six children, was born in eastern Texas, near Linden, to Florence Givins and Giles or Jiles Joplin. For many years, his birthdate was thought to be November 24, 1868; but research by ragtime historian Ed Berlin has revealed this is inaccurate.

After 1871, the Joplin family moved to Texarkana, Texas, and Scott’s mother cleaned homes so Scott could have a place to practice his music. By 1882 his mother had purchased a piano. Showing musical ability at an early age, the young Joplin received free piano lessons from a German music teacher, Julius Weiss, who gave him a well rounded knowledge of classical music form, which would serve him well in later years and fuel his ambition to create a “classical” form of ragtime. At the 1893 World’s Fair, in Chicago, Illinois, he heard the latest music, including the concert band of John Phillip Sousa, who played there daily. He would later further his musical education by attending George R. Smith College in Sedalia, Missouri, studying music theory, harmony, and composition.

By the late 1880s, Scott Joplin had left home to start a life of his own. He may have joined or formed various quartets and other musical groups and traveled around the Midwest to sing.

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