Scott Joplin in New York: A Ragtime Mystery

PODCAST How did one of the greatest composers of the 20th century end up buried in Queens in a pauper’s grave?

Scott Joplin, the “King of Ragtime”, moved to New York in 1907, at the height of his fame. And yet, he died a decade later, forgotten by the public.

He remained nearly forgotten and buried in a communal grave in Queens, until a resurgence of interest in ragtime music in the 1970s. How did this happen?

In today’s music-packed show, we travel to Missouri, stopping by Sedalia and St. Louis, and interview a range of Ragtime experts to help us understand the mystery of Joplin’s forgotten years in New York City.

Listen Now: Scott Joplin Ragtime Podcast

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We’d like to thank the following guests for participating in this week’s show:

Kathleen Boswell of the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival

Bryan Cather from the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site and the organization Friends of Scott Joplin

Edward A. Berlin, ragtime scholor and author of King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era

Reginald R. Robinson, jazz and ragtime pianist and educator

Richard Dowling who performed his album The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin at Carnegie Hall on the 100th anniversary of Joplin’s birth

Here are Reginald Robinson and Richard Dowling performing Scott Joplin:

New York Public Library
The Entertainer published 1902/New York Public Library


Tom’s images from Sedalia and St. Louis, Missouri:

The historic marker outside the site of the Maple Leaf Club in Sedalia, Missouri.
Looking into Maple Leaf Park, on the site of the historic club.
Inside Maple Leaf Park
Maple Leaf Park contains a timeline of Joplin, the “Maple Leaf Rag” and the club.
Downtown Sedalia at sunset, with the historic Hotel Bothwell, right.
Historic downtown Sedalia. This is a shot on Main Street.
Sedalia’s mural dedicated to Scott Joplin.
The Hotel Bothwell
Looking up Ohio Avenue in downtown Sedalia.
Sedalia’s former train station has been converted into a visitors center, with a museum that covers a lot of Ragtime, and Joplin, history.
Inside the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site in St. Louis. This is the front apartment, where Joplin may have boarded.
A piano with, of course, Joplin music ready to be played.
Joplin’s portrait hangs on the wall of the Scott Joplin House in St. Louis.
The piano room downstairs at the Scott Joplin House in St. Louis contains many piano rolls of Joplin compositions.
Bryan Cather, interviewed in the show at the Scott Joplin House, pumps away at the player piano.
Outside the Scott Joplin House in St. Louis on a snowy February day.
Scott Joplin House, St. Louis.
The last home of Scott Joplin at 163 West 131st Street in Harlem. Image courtesy Google Maps
The grave of Scott Joplin at St. Michael’s Cemetery. Image courtesy Gardens of Stone.
The major reason for Scott Joplin’s resurgent popularity in the 1970s was the box office hit The Sting starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
The Maple Leaf Rag, Joplin’s most successful song in his lifetime.
A clip of the Houston Grand Opera’s version of Treemonisha, performed in 1976.

FURTHER LISTENING:

Get a background on the music scene of the early 1900s by listening to these two podcasts on New York’s early music heritage:

And for a look at early African-American neighborhoods in New York, check out this episode (with trips to Seneca Village and Weeksville):