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King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era (Oxford University Press, 1994, 2016)

We can change our minds in the course of two decades. So when the Oxford editor suggested I add a couple of chapters for a new edition, I thought this was an opportunity to set things straight, to present my reconsidered views. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into; I ended up rewriting most of the book, extended the chapters from thirteen to twenty, and increased the book size by a third.

Of major importance was the new research landscape developed through the Internet. For the first edition I had devoted years to reading selected vintage newspapers on microfilm, hoping to find relevant items. Now I enter a name or term into a search engine and in a microsecond am presented with discoveries I could not have imagined, finding Joplin in places where his presence had not been suspected, in circumstances that had long been forgotten. The resulting view of Joplin’s life has more detail and increased clarity, even as many areas remain stubbornly elusive.

We now have a glimpse of Joplin’s pre-ragtime activity as a quartet singer, touring with his Texas Medley Quartette through the Midwestern and Northeastern states, as far as Boston. We know the types of venues where the quartet performed, and some the of music it presented. The Ragtime Dance, Joplin’s first stage work, turns out to have had several earlier versions with highly acclaimed performances. Details of the sabotage of A Guest of Honor, his first–and lost–opera are finally disclosed. Joplin’s wife Freddie gains importance as we see more clues linking her to Treemonisha, his second opera. Joplin’s legacy, the changing attitudes toward his music, and the legal entanglements surrounding his copyrights receive new analyses. Some of the ground covered in my new edition may be familiar, but the added detail and substance greatly enhances the story.

1. Childhood and Family Background
2. A Career before Ragtime, 1891-1896
3. Sedalia, Cradle of Classic Ragtime
4. Ragtime before Scott Joplin
5. Maple Leaf Rag, 1899-1900
6. An Approach to Musical Theater, 1899-1900
7. Emergence of the House of Classic Rags
8. King of Ragtime Writers, 1901
9. The Ragtime Dance, 1902
10. A Guest of Honor, 1903
11. Freddie, 1904
12. Final Days in the Midwest, 1905-1907
13. New York, 1907
14. Seminary Music and New Directions, 1908-1909
15. Treemonisha, 1910-1911
16. Observations about Treemonisha
17. The Elusive Production, 1911-1913
18. Final Years, Final Publications, 1914-1917
19. Legacy, Part I: Fading into Obscurity, 1918-1940
20. Legacy, Part II: Revival and Recognition, 1941-1980s
Appendix A: A Scott Joplin Timeline
Appendix B: The Music
  Alphabetical Listing, with Publication and Copyright Information
  Chronological Listing
Appendix C: Three Songs
  Good-bye Old Gal Good-bye
  Snoring Sampson
  Lovin' Babe
Appendix D: Tom Ireland Letter
Appendix E: Maple Leaf Club Incorporation Papers

Original cover of Scott Joplin's greatest rag.

Copyright © 2016 Edward A. Berlin