When celebrating the Fourth of July this year, it feels especially appropriate to honor a black American composer who gave us the uniquely American musical style--Ragtime. A son of a former slave, Scott Joplin's exact birthdate is unknown, other than it was during the six month span between June 1867 and January 1868. He was born in Texas and grew up in Texarkana, where his mother was a housekeeper. This gave Joplin early access to a piano in the home of his mother's employers. A local music teacher heard about the exceptionally talented boy and gave him his first piano lessons. He also shared his love of symphony and operas with his student. Young Scott Joplin was eager to become a classical composer, even though opportunities for black classical composers were practically non-existent in the late 19th century and the turn of the 20th. Joplin completed his one opera, Treemonisha in 1911 but got no further as a classical composer. Joplin was further hampered by his own incomplete musical education and by often having to be his own teacher.
However, no one can say Scott Joplin did not leave his mark on American music, especially American piano literature. He published his Maple Leaf Rag in 1895, and for the next 20 years, he was the self-styled King of Ragtime. For more information about Scott Joplin and his work, and maybe learn to play piano rags yourself, here is the Santa Clara County Library Distict Scott Joplin Resource list.
By and about Scott Joplin. Recordings and sheet music from the King of Ragtime.
For a taste of Ragtime right here and now, here is Scott Joplin's Pineapple Rag, published in 1908.