They Hated The Music He Created, But He Kept On Playing

portrait of scott joplin
Briona Lamback
November 19, 2021

Music ran through Scott Joplin’s veins. Joplin’s father, for whom a music career was never an option, passed his love of Black spirituals to his son. Would Joplin have a chance to break free from the white supremacist limitations that had plagued his father?

Yes! For Black families at the time, the legacy of enslavement still stung. But in the Joplin house, Black music kept their spirits lifted. A young Joplin developed strong piano skills – but ultimately took a job on the railroad. 

But by the late 1880s, he became so good on the keys that he took a HUGE risk.

Joplin quit his job to follow his dreams! He traveled worldwide, from the midwest to Europe, performing ragtime – a style rooted in rhythms of African music. And when he dropped “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899, the world lost it! 

But his newfound fame didn’t stop racism.

It became the biggest ragtime song EVER – but racists still tried to stop him. They rejected ragtime music as “lower art.” Joplin ignored the racist critics and composed an opera, “Treemonisha,” which highlighted the role of Black education in liberation.

Joplin’s death saw the end of ragtime – the jazz era soon followed. But the King of Ragtime’s life teaches us this: you can share your gifts with the world despite white supremacy – and uplift your people at the same time!

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