King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era

Edward A. Berlin, Author
Edward A. Berlin, Author Oxford University Press, USA $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-19-508739-0
Hardcover - 349 pages - 978-1-4294-0673-4
Open Ebook - 334 pages - 978-1-280-52841-5
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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. (Aug.)
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