Scott Joplin: Ragtime Genius
Ragtime is one of the quintessential American music forms. With
an even tempo rhythm and piano accompaniment, this "tin-pan
alley" music was the forerunner of modern Jazz. Of all the
Ragtime composers, Texas-born Scott Joplin is still considered
Joplin was born to former slaves in 1867 somewhere in Northeast
Texas (some sources say Linden). The family moved to Texarkana
where his mother worked as a housekeeper for a white family.
She'd take her son with her to work, and he'd play their grand
piano. Recognizing his talent, his family worked hard to pay for
lessons. His teacher, Julius Weiss, was a German-born musician
who introduced Joplin to classical composition.
As a young man, Joplin moved to Sedalia, Missouri. He began
working in minstrel troupes, even performing at the Chicago
World Fair, then played and sang in the Texas Medley Quartette,
which performed in Syracuse. He was considered a good singer
and adequate piano player, but Joplin's real passion lay in writing
music. He took classes at the George R. Smith College in Sedalia
where he learned how to master musical notation. He also gave
private lessons, later collaborating with two of his students, Scott
Hayden and Arthur Marshall.
In 1899, Joplin published his first musical score: the Maple Leaf
Rag. Within the next five years, Joplin published and performed
several musical scores. In 1903, he wrote an opera about Booker
T. Washington's historic dinner at the White House, called "Guest
of Honor." However, while touring, the box office receipts were
stolen, and the company had to disband. To pay off outstanding
debts, Joplin had to relinquish all property, including the score to
"Guest of Honor," and consequently this piece has been lost.
Joplin met his greatest love, Freddie Alexander, in 1903. He
wrote "The Chrysanthemum" for her, which might have led to his
divorce from wife Belle. He married Freddie in 1904, but
tragically, she died just ten weeks after the wedding. Joplin was
devastated and took up the life of a traveling composer, staying
with friends throughout the country. On one of these travels he
met Joseph Lamb, a white Ragtime composer. Joplin helped Lamb
publish his own work, and Lamb quickly superseded his mentor in
prominence - not due to talent but because of skin color.
In 1910, Joplin wrote his second opera, Treemonisha, a story
about achieving racial equality through education. He sent the
score to a publishing company in New York, where a young
composer named Irving Berlin worked. Joplin became convinced
that Berlin lifted some of his own Ragtime material from Joplin's
opera. Unfazed, Joplin rewrote portions of the opera, but it never
was completely staged during his lifetime (the complete version
was performed on Broadway in the 1970s.) The prestigious
American Musician and Art Journal considered Treemonisha to
be the "most American opera ever composed." (Edward A. Berlin,
Joplin remarried in 1914, but by then his brain had been badly
damaged by syphilis. He died in a mental institution in 1917,
forgotten and broke. A prolific composer, he wrote many more
works that were never published. Sadly, those works have all
disappeared. However, Ragtime found a resurgence in popularity
during the 1970s due to the use of Joplin's music for the Oscar®
winning movie The Sting. Americans finally recognized him as the
classical composer he always wanted to be, and posthumously
granted him a Pulitzer Prize in 1976.
You're sure to recognize some of Joplin's most famous
compositions, among them:
The Entertainer (1902)
The Great Crush Collision (1896)
Wall Street Rag (1909).
Wilma Mankiller, Radical Chief
As a girl growing up in the hills near the Quachita Forest, Wilma
Mankiller didn't seem destined to become an outspoken, radical
advocate of the Cherokee Nation. Yet her strong sense of justice
and love of her culture helped solidify her success as the first
female Chief of any Indian Nation.
From the Country to the City - and Back Again
Born the sixth of eleven children in 1945 to full- blood Cherokee
Charley and his Irish-Dutch wife Irene, Wilma Mankiller lived the
first years in dire poverty. In order to make a better life for
themselves, the family accepted the U.S. government's offer to
resettle. They ended up in the slums of San Francisco, where Wilma
became aware of the injustices done to the American Indian. She
began volunteering most of her time at the Indian community
center, and was also a committed supporter of the 1969 "All Tribes"
demonstration at Alcatraz. While she couldn't participate in the
sit-in (she married at 18 and already had young children by this
time), she extended her activism to the Pit River people, a tribe
native to California. She successfully fought an electric company's
attempt at confiscating their land.
The experience with radical activism gave Wilma the courage to
leave an overbearing husband and return to her roots. She moved
back to Tahlequah in 1975, and landed a position with the Cherokee
Nation in 1978.
Rise in the Cherokee Nation
The skills she learned in California - the ability to interpret treaties,
obtain grants, and organize people towards a common goal -
served Wilma well in her employment. After obtaining millions of
dollars in grant money for the Bell community (near the Arkansas
border), she became the head of the Cherokee Nation Community
Development Department. Unlike her predecessors, however,
Wilma disliked the emphasis on urbanization as a solution to rural
poverty. Instead, she insisted on supporting self-sustaining
communities that valued the Cherokee traditions of
interdependence and hard work. She encouraged small businesses
and championed community's rights for local control.
Amid some hostility, Wilma became Deputy Chief of the Nation in the
early 1980s. It surprised Wilma that her detractors did not criticize
her for her well-known radicalism, but for her gender. As the
Cherokee are a matrilineal society, she didn't think that citizens
would be bothered by a woman in a high position.
When Chief Ross Swimmer left the Cherokee Nation to head the
Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington in 1986, Wilma assumed the
role as Chief. She was duly elected in 1987, although her opponents
suspected voter fraud (nothing came from this accusation). As
Chief, she ruled out bingo as an economic solution, and continued
to focus on rural development. Becoming Chief also afforded her
celebrity status. Ms Magazine named her Woman of the Year, as did
the Oklahoma Federation of Indian Women.
Wilma wrote her autobiography Mankiller: A Chief and Her People
and contributed to The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's
History. Although Wilma Mankiller is no longer Chief of the
Cherokee Nation, her legacy lives on in her work as a radical
champion of rural self-sufficiency.
Red River Notables
|Will and Intellect are one and the same thing. Spinoza
|(This page is not really all that complete, and I'll probably not do anything more with
it. I've left it on the site because it was one of my first page up-loads after I ceased
the physical publication of Red River Historian. Both articles appeared in issues 1 & 2.