Scott Joplin was born near Linden, Texas and raised in Texarkana, Texas, the son of a railroad laborer who had been a slave. Joplin showed an early and extraordinary aptitude for music, which was encouraged by his musical family. He taught himself to play the banjo, but he was most fascinated by the piano. By age eleven his talent was noticed by German-born music teacher Julius Weiss, who taught him harmony, music theory, and an appreciation for opera. Joplin left home while still a teenager and worked as a traveling pianist, vocalist, and began composing.
Joplin, known as the “King of Ragtime,” was influenced by classical European, African, and Creole musical styles. Ragtime emerged in the 1890s and was popular through about 1918--a forerunner of jazz, consisting of lively syncopated rhythms composed mainly for piano. Joplin wrote or collaborated on more than 60 pieces of music. His most famous compositions are The Maple Leaf Rag (1999), The Entertainer (1902), and Treemonisha (1911)—the first opera composed by an African American. Although Joplin’s music was popular, he received little recognition until after his death. In 1973 The Entertainer was used as the theme music for the film The Sting, and in 1976 Joplin was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to American music.