What do we know about Scott Joplin?

Tradition says he was born 24 November 1868, so he would have been just 150 years old today.  The son of a newly-freed Texas slave, how did he learn what he learned about music?

Anecdotes relate that the young Scott Joplin gained access to a piano in a white-owned home where his mother worked, and taught himself the rudiments of music. In support of this story, we note its reflection in details of Treemonisha, an opera that Joplin published in 1911.

In 1896, it appears that he attended music classes at George R. Smith College in Sedalia,MO. Since the college and its records were destroyed in a fire in 1925, we have no evidence of the extent of Joplin’s studies, but anecdotes suggest that until the end of the 1890s he still lacked complete mastery of music notation.

— from Ed Berlin’s brief biography

Joplin wanted to compose opera.  His 1901 opera, A Guest of Honor, was about Booker T Washington’s invitation to the White House. The topic was too hot to handle in that era, and Joplin could not find a publisher.  He took it on tour, hiring a company of his own, but the box office proceeds were stolen, he couldn’t pay the cast’s hotel bill, and the hotel manager confiscated everything, including the score.  The score was never seen again by Joplin or anyone.

His only published opera was Treemonisha, six years later.

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