Legendary ragtime composer Scott Joplin wasn’t born, or raised, in St. Louis, but he lived here during a significant part of his short career. That much is well documented, Joplin’s birthplace & birthday aren’t so clear:
One tenacious myth tells us that Joplin was born in Texarkana, Texas, on November 24, 1868. The location is easily dispensed with: Texarkana was not established until 1873. Testimony of a family friend has Scott born in Marshall, Texas, some 70 miles south from what was to become Texarkana; in 1870, according to the U.S. Census, the family lived on a farm in Linden, Texas, almost 40 miles away. That same census, of 1870, certifies that on July 18, 1870, the young Scott was already two years old, thereby ruling out a birth date of November 24, 1868. The 1880 census and his death certificate support that conclusion. Though we cannot cite an exact date for his birth, documents place the event between July 19, 1867 and mid-January 1868. (source)
As a young man in his 20s he began his musical career:
During the late 1880s he left his job as a laborer with the railroad, and travelled around the American South as an itinerant musician. He went to Chicago for the World’s Fair of 1893, which played a major part in making ragtime a national craze by 1897.
Joplin moved to Sedalia, Missouri, in 1894, and earned a living teaching piano and continuing to tour the South. In Sedalia, he taught future ragtime composers Arthur Marshall, Scott Hayden and Brun Campbell. Joplin began publishing music in 1895, and publication of his “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 brought him fame and had a profound influence on subsequent writers of ragtime. It also brought the composer a steady income for life. During his lifetime, Joplin did not reach this level of success again and frequently had financial problems.(Wikipedia)
Joplin only lived in St. Louis from 1900-1907, but it was a productive period in his life:
Joplin moved to St. Louis in the spring of 1900 with his new wife, Belle. They moved into the flat at 2658A Morgan Street, now Delmar Boulevard. While living there between 1900-1903, he produced some of his better known compositions: The Entertainer, Elite Syncopations, March Majestic and Ragtime Dance. With royalties coming in from his musical creations, he began to perform less and became more of a teacher and composer. During this productive time in St. Louis, Joplin also wrote his first major serious composition, an operatic piece called A Guest of Honor, which had as its setting the Missouri governor’s mansion in Jefferson City. The original score for this work was lost, and it can no longer be performed. (Scott Joplin House)
Although Joplin and his wife only lived at that address for a few years, it is a Missouri state historic site, with most of the block face intact as it was during his time here.
Joplin moved to New York City in 1907 to further his career, but he never achieved the same success. He died there on April 1, 1917, basically pennyless.
The Scott Joplin House State Historic Site is an interesting place to see. It’s is closed November-January but I’d suggest visiting next year.
– Steve Patterson