Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin

Susan Curtis, Author University of Missouri Press $39.95 (265p) ISBN 978-0-8262-0949-8
Aiming at a scholarly audience, Curtis, who teaches American history at Purdue, offers a thoughtful and intriguing study of the life and world of ragtime creator Scott Joplin (1868-1917). Lapsing only occasionally into academic jargon, the author ably places Joplin in the context of an emerging biracial society and culture as a man who was denied rights because of his color yet applauded as a musician. The syncopated rhythms of ragtime spoke to an 1890s society loosening its Victorian morals, suggests Curtis, who shows how the black musician's career was boosted nationally by white promoter John Stark, who published the famed Maple Leaf Rag in 1899. Though Joplin's work, including his opera Treemonisha , influenced the emerging culture of the 20th century, divisions within the black cultural community of New York City, Curtis explains, relegated the composer to the fringes during his last years. But Joplin's music remains, she notes, as a prototype of the ``hybrid cultural forms'' that can help knit together a multiracial society. Illustrations not seen by PW . (June)
Reviewed on: 05/30/1994
Release date: 06/01/1994
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