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King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era [Paperback]

Edward A. Berlin
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 1 1995
In 1974, the academy award-winning film The Sting brought back the music of Scott Joplin, a black ragtime composer who died in 1917. Led by The Entertainer, one of the most popular pieces of the mid-1970s, a revival of his music resulted in events unprecedented in American musical history. Never before had any composer's music been so acclaimed by both the popular and classical music worlds. While reaching a "Top Ten" position in the pop charts, Joplin's music was also being performed inclassical recitals and setting new heights for sales of classical records. His opera Treemonisha was performed both in opera houses and on Broadway. Destined to be the definitive work on the man and his music, King of Ragtime is written by Edward A. Berlin. A renowned authority on Joplin and the author of the acclaimed and widely cited Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History, Berlin redefines the Scott Joplin biography. Using the tools of a trained musicologist, he has uncovered a vast amount of new information about Joplin. His biography truly documents the story of the composer, replacing the myths and unsupported anecdotes of previous histories. He shows how Joplin's opera Treemonisha was a tribute to the woman he loved, a woman other biographers never even mentioned. Berlin also reveals that Joplin was an associate of Irving Berlin, and that he accused Berlin of stealing his music to compose Alexander's Ragtime Band in 1911. Berlin paints a vivid picture of the ragtime years, placing Scott Joplin's story in its historical context. The composer emerges as a representative of the first post-Civil War generation of African Americans, of the men and women who found in the world of entertainment a way out of poverty and lowly social status. King of Ragtime recreates the excitement of these pioneers, who dreamed of greatness as they sought to expand the limits society placed upon their race.

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From Publishers Weekly

Although he did not invent ragtime, Joplin (1868-1917) is the best-known exponent of this type of jazz, with its characteristic syncopated rhythms. Berlin (Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History) shows how Joplin launched his career in the black social clubs of Sedalia, Mo.; achieved success with the Maple Leaf Rag; and went on to win the respect of whites as well as his fellow African Americans, composing numerous rags and two operas, A Guest of Honor (now lost) and Treemonisha. Joplin, whose father was born into slavery, aspired to transcend his humble origins, but because details of his personal history are elusive, Berlin's conclusions about Joplin's often unhappy life and personal relationships tend to be speculative. The author lands on solid ground, however, with his analysis of Joplin's sophisticated and innovative compositions, demonstrating clearly how he expanded the language of ragtime. In the final chapter, Berlin brings the story full circle with a comprehensive summary of the fate of ragtime from its eclipse in the 1920s and 1930s to its comeback in the 1940s and the revival of Joplin's work still going on today. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Joplin knew he had a distinctive talent and so did several well-placed contemporaries, yet he never realized widespread acclaim during his lifetime (1868-1917). If he were alive today he could revel in the unique ways his music has placed him at the top: concert artists' repertoire; film music; an annual festival; even a postage stamp. Still, information on Joplin has been sparse. Here Berlin (author of Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History, LJ 3/1/80) helps by examining dates and events that are in question. Berlin provides two interesting features: a detailed listing of music published and copyrighted by Joplin during his lifetime and the music and text of three songs arranged by Joplin that were left out of NYPL's definitive The Complete Works of Scott Joplin (1981). Readers will want to compare Berlin's book with Susan Curtis's Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin (LJ 4/15/94). Recommended for American music collections.
Kathleen Sparkman, Baylor Univ., Waco, Tex.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough May 10 2003
My review in two words: BUY IT.
This book is probably as thorough of a study into the life of Scott Joplin as is possible. Edward Berlin has obviously exhausted every resource available to him, and throughout, the book is well-noted - that is to say he gives credit to probably 99.9% of the sources of his information in the section for notes. Berlin has went through census records, newspapers, other books on ragtime, interviews with/statements given by numerous people affiliated with Scott Joplin and countless other sources for this book. This book is 99.9% true, solid facts; he seldom states a personal opinion, and when he does, it is made blatantly clear that that is what he is doing. This book also includes a listing of the complete known works of Scott Joplin, and the sheet music for the three songs "Good-bye Old Gal Good-bye", "Snoring Sampson" and "Lovin' Babe". (I would like to say in response to someone else's review that it is very difficult for me to see how the biography of a *musician* can be "interrupted" with music scores.)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Piece of Reporting and Scholarship Jan. 2 2001
By A Customer
Despite years of detective work by musicologists, Joplin's life remains something of a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. Berlin's work is the most coherent and robust work on Joplin's life to date, and barring some miraculous finding (such as the Sweatman files), it is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The depth of Berlin's reportage and the obvious breadth of his detective work (he's a superb "triangulator") give his assertions and educated guesses on Joplin's life, work and motivations far greater academic vailidity than that of many authors who have chased this musical ghost.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but slow in parts July 17 2000
After reading Doctorow's Ragtime and visiting Scott's St. Louis home I was eager to learn more about Scott Joplin and this book satisfied that need.
It is a detective story putting the clues together how his life was lived. This makes it an interesting read.
The only warning I would have is that it is blocky and interrupted with music scores and other interludes which don't lend itself to a reading rhythm.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great book! Jan. 30 2000
By Carol
I'm am a big fan of Joplin, and I consider this biography the most accurate, of all of them, it tells about Joplins music, life, personality, performances, who he performed with, where he performed, lost works, and a lot more.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great May 22 2004
By A Customer
This book is by far the best Joplin biography out there. It gave me all the information I needed to know about Scott Joplin. It's highly recommended to everyone who is a ragtime or Scott Joplin fan.
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