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African-American Musical Pioneers

Musician Scott Joplin is known as the King of Ragtime.   Joplin perfected the musical artform and published songs such as The Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainerand Please Say You Will. He also composed operas such as Guest of Honor and Treemonisha. Considered one of the greatest composers of the early 20th century, Joplin inspired jazz musicians.

In 1897, Joplin"s Original Rags is published marking the popularity of ragtime music. Two years later, Maple Leaf Rag is published and provides Joplin with fame and recognition. It also influenced other composers of ragtime music.

After relocating to St. Louis in 1901, Joplin. continues to publish music. His most famous works included The Entertainer and March Majestic. Joplin also composes the theatrical workThe Ragtime Dance.

By 1904 Joplin is creating an opera company and produces A Guest of Honor. The company embarked on a national tour that was shortlived after box office receipts were stolen, and Joplin could not afford to pay the company players. After moving to New York City with the hopes of finding a new producer, Joplin composes Treemonisha. Unable to find a producer, Joplin publishes the opera himself at a hall in Harlem. More »

 William Christopher Handy is known as the “Father of the Blues” because of his ability to push the musical form from having regional to national recognition.

In 1912 Handy published Memphis Blues as sheet music and the world was introduced to Handy’s 12-bar blues style.

The music inspired New York-based dance team Vernon and Irene Castle to create the foxtrot. Others believe it was the first blues song. Handy sold the rights to the song for $100.

That same year, Handy met Harry H. Pace, a young business man. The two men opened Pace and Handy Sheet Music. By 1917, Handy had moved to New York City and published songs such as Memphis Blues, Beale Street Blues, and Saint Louis Blues.

Handy published the original recording of “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Saxophone Blues,” written by Al Bernard.

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