Scott Joplin (c. 1867/1868? – April 1, 1917) was an African-American composer and pianist. Joplin achieved fame for his ragtime compositions, and was later dubbed "The King of Ragtime". During his brief career, he wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas. One of his first pieces, the "Maple Leaf Rag", became ragtime's first and most influential hit, and has been recognized as the archetypal rag.
Joplin was born into a musical family of laborers in Northeast Texas, and developed his musical knowledge with the help of local teachers, most notably Julius Weiss. Joplin grew up in Texarkana, where he formed a vocal quartet, and taught mandolin and guitar. During the late 1880s he left his job as a laborer with the railroad, and travelled around the American South as an itinerant musician. He went to Chicago for the World's Fair of 1893, which played a major part in making ragtime a national craze by 1897.
Joplin moved to Sedalia, Missouri, in 1894, and earned a living teaching piano and continuing to tour the South. In Sedalia, he taught future ragtime composers Arthur Marshall, Scott Hayden and Brun Campbell. Joplin began publishing music in 1895, and publication of his "Maple Leaf Rag" in 1899 brought him fame and had a profound influence on subsequent writers of ragtime. It also brought the composer a steady income for life. During his lifetime, Joplin did not reach this level of success again and frequently had financial problems.
Joplin moved to St. Louis in 1901, where he continued to compose and publish music, and regularly performed in brothels and bars in the city's red-light district. By the time he had moved to St. Louis, he may have been experiencing discoordination of the fingers, tremors, and an inability to speak clearly, as a result of having contracted syphilis. The score to his first opera, A Guest of Honor, was confiscated in 1903 with his belongings, owing to his non-payment of bills, and is considered lost.
He continued to compose and publish music, and in 1907 moved to New York City, seeking to find a producer for a new opera. He attempted to go beyond the limitations of the musical form which made him famous, without much monetary success. His second opera, Treemonisha, was not received well at its partially staged performance in 1915.
In 1916, suffering from tertiary syphilis and by consequence rapidly deteriorating health, Joplin descended into dementia. He was admitted to a mental institution in January 1917, and died there three months later at the age of 49.
Joplin's music was rediscovered and returned to popularity in the early 1970s with the release of a million-selling album of Joplin's rags recorded by Joshua Rifkin, followed by the Academy Award–winning movie The Sting, which featured several of his compositions, such as "The Entertainer". The opera Treemonisha was finally produced in full to wide acclaim in 1972. In 1976, Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize.