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WQXR Presents “Scott Joplin at 150”: Live Webcast from The Greene Space, Marking 150th Anniversary of “King of Ragtime” (Nov 29)

WQXR, America’s leading classical music station, celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Scott Joplin, the iconic American composer and pianist immortalized as “The King of Ragtime,” with “Scott Joplin at 150”: a live performance and webcast at The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space on November 29. Beginning at 7pm, the event will feature an eclectic line-up of remarkable artists, including pianists Dave Burrell, Roy Eaton, and Joshua Rifkin; soprano Laquita Mitchell; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tyehimba Jess; and pianist-host Jade Simmons. Ticket and tune-in information follows below.

Scott Joplin left an indelible mark on the history of American music, straddling the worlds of classical and popular music while prefiguring the advent of jazz. During his brief career, the prolific composer and pianist wrote some of the world’s most recognized melodies as well as lesser-known gems for the ballet and even the opera Treemonisha – much of which was composed during the decade he spent in New York City.

Joplin was born on November 24, 1868, near Texarkana, Texas, and died April 1, 1917, in New York City. The son of a freeborn mother and ex-slave father, he grew up in poverty and was extraordinarily gifted as a singer, pianist and violinist. In the late 1870s he was tutored in classical music theory and keyboard technique by a German-born scholar named Julius Weiss. As a teenager he left home and spent several years traveling around the country as an itinerant musician, finally settling in Sedalia, Missouri, in 1894. Here Joplin continued to study music, joined a cornet band, formed an eight-man touring vocal group, and began composing seriously. He lived in Sedalia until 1901 when he moved to St. Louis.

Joplin composed more than 40 rags, waltzes and marches for piano including The Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer, Euphonic Sounds, The Easy Winners, Elite Syncopations, Wall Street Rag, and Solace. He also composed two operas, A Guest of Honor (now lost) and Treemonisha; a ballet; several songs for voice and piano; and a number of other works, including a piano concerto, that have also since been lost.

It was the publication in 1899 of Joplin’s composition The Maple Leaf Rag that brought him fame. Sales of the sheet music exploded and the piece became a huge instrumental hit, both in the piano version and in arrangements for dance bands and brass bands. The royalties from sales provided Joplin with a steady income throughout his life.

Joplin moved to New York City in 1907, primarily to complete and produce his opera Treemonisha, although he also continued composing for piano and produced some of his finest piano works during his ten years in New York. Treemonisha was completed in 1910 and when he was not able to interest a publisher, Joplin self-published a piano-vocal score in 1911. He also worked to secure a production of the opera and staged several “backers’ auditions,” but there was no full staging during his lifetime; in fact, the first full production of Treemonisha was in 1972. Mitchell will sing the aria “The Sacred Tree” from the opera at The Greene Space event.

There have been several Joplin revivals over the years. The first came in 1950 with the publication of a book by Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis, They All Played Ragtime, which explored the history of ragtime and pioneers like Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb. The book’s success generated many new fans of ragtime. In the 1960s – a number of musicians, including William Bolcom, William Albright, and Joshua Rifkin, discovered Joplin – and their interest resulted in the 1970 release of Rifkin’s Scott Joplin: Piano Rags on Nonesuch Records. It sold more than a million copies and suddenly Joplin was again in vogue. In 1971, The Collected Works of Scott Joplin was published by the New York Public Library, followed in 1973 by Gunther Schuller’s Joplin recordings with the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble. The movie The Sting was released in that same year, whereupon the film’s version of Joplin’s “The Entertainer” reached number 3 on the Billboard “Hot 100.” In 1976, Joplin was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for his contributions to American music.

Joplin’s music remains popular to this day and he has been honored with festivals in his home states of Texas and Missouri as well as by the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation. At the site of his grave at St. Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst, NY, a tribute concert is held every April 1, on the anniversary of his death. Many people feel, however, that Joplin’s music is still vastly underappreciated and that it is often misinterpreted as being simply happy-go-lucky, good-time music to be played as fast as possible. In fact, Joplin intended his compositions to be appreciated as serious, artistic works, to be played more deliberately and with greater care than they were during his lifetime – and still are, all too often, today.

Several recordings of Scott Joplin’s complete piano music have been made over the years, but there was no complete recording by an African-American pianist until 2017, when, to mark the 100th anniversary of Joplin’s death, the complete piano works were released in a new recording by William Appling. Appling was a renowned African-American choral conductor, educator, and pianist who came to Joplin late in his life. After discovering the composer, he was inspired to spend his final years recording Joplin’s piano works and championing his music. Appling also planned to mount a production of Treemonisha, although this dream still remained unfulfilled at his death in 2008.

While William Appling’s recordings were widely appreciated and received excellent reviews, two members of the team that worked on the Appling project – Bill McClelland, the producer of Appling’s last recording, and classical music publicist Albert Imperato, a founding partner of 21C Media Group – decided to continue promoting Joplin’s music. They were frustrated at how little had been done to honor this great composer on the centennial of his death last year, particularly in New York City where Joplin spent the last ten years of his life. To mark the 150th anniversary of Joplin’s birth, on November 24, 2018, the two worked to galvanize interest in planning Joplin programs in New York. Imperato and McClelland are hopeful the two events scheduled this month – a Joplin tribute concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center featuring pianist Terry Waldo (Nov 26) and WQXR’s program at The Greene Space (Nov 29) – will inspire other artists and organizations to continue the celebrations throughout the anniversary year.

The artists on Joplin

“Scott Joplin’s music has accompanied me for the greater part of my life – I first fell under its spell even before adolescence, and the spell only deepened with renewed contact some years after that. Each time I play one of his works I discover something marvelous I hadn’t quite noticed before, no matter how well I thought I knew it. He has given me so much – I try to give my best back to him.”
– Joshua Rifkin

“Bill McClelland invited me to join the event due to my interest in Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson. I immediately thought I would present Scott Joplin’s Easy Winners in the program since Mr. Morton played this composition at the Smithsonian when interviewed by Alan Lomax. He elongated the piece from 2/4 to 4/4 meter and that time change gave this composition more freedom to swing in the jazz tradition. Since then I have found Joplin’s music to be one of the significant building blocks of jazz.”
– Dave Burrell

About the artists

Dave Burrell, piano

Pianist and composer Dave Burrell (b. 1940) has recorded more than 40 albums as a leader and has appeared on more than 100 other recordings with artists including Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, David Murray, and Marion Brown. Burrell was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the 2018 Vision Festival in New York City. He is a master of many piano styles from ragtime and stride to free jazz and has long been a champion of Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and other early giants. As a composer, Burrell has written and recorded numerous works, including a jazz opera entitled Windward Passages, and has been composer-in-residence at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. He has been featured on many national and international radio broadcasts including NPR’s Fresh Air. In addition to being honored by the Vision Festival, Burrell has received awards and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Philadelphia Music Foundation, and the Pew Center for Arts and Fellowship, among many others.

Roy Eaton, piano

Roy Eaton (b. 1930) is not only a pianist who specializes in Scott Joplin and Frédéric Chopin, but a former advertising creative who wrote some of the most memorable jingles of our time, for Texaco, Yuban coffee, and others. He began studying classical piano at the age of six and in 1937 performed at Carnegie Hall. He won the first Kosciuszko Foundation Chopin Competition in 1950 and made his concert debuts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1951 and at New York’s Town Hall in 1952. Drafted into the Army during the Korean War, he wrote and produced programs for Armed Forces Radio. In 1955, he was hired by Young & Rubicam as a copywriter and jingle composer, and in his first two years created 75% of all the music produced there. Eaton was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 2010. In 1986, he returned to concert performances, touring internationally and recording albums featuring the music of Joplin, Chopin, George Gershwin, and others.

Tyehimba Jess, author

Tyehimba Jess (b. 1965) is the author of two books of poetry, leadbelly and Olio, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. Also nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, Olio (as the publisher writes) is “part fact, part fiction, … weav[ing] sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I. Olio is an effort to understand how they met, resisted, complicated, co-opted, and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them.” A principal figure in the book is Scott Joplin, and Jess imagines interviews with people who knew him in order to explore his life, gain insight into his music, and try to discover who he really was. Born in Detroit, Jess is a Cave Canem and NYU alumnus, a Guggenheim fellowship recipient, and Professor of English at CUNY College of Staten Island.

Laquita Mitchell, soprano

Soprano Laquita Mitchell is a Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Grand Prize Winner. She has performed extensively throughout the world with opera companies including the Los Angeles Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York City Opera, Washington National Opera, Opéra Comique in Paris, and many others. In 2015, she performed with Eric Owens and others in the New York Philharmonic’s In Their Footsteps, a tribute to Marian Anderson, Betty Allen, George Shirley, and William Warfield. Mitchell sang “The Sacred Tree” from Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha and joined Owens for “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. When she made her title role debut in Porgy and Bess at the San Francisco Opera, Opera News wrote, “Laquita Mitchell, in her first outing as Bess, dazzled the SFO audience with her purity of tone and vivid theatrical presence.”

Joshua Rifkin, piano

Conductor, pianist, and musicologist Joshua Rifkin (b. 1944) is widely known as a Scott Joplin aficionado and advocate who was central to the Joplin and ragtime revival in the 1970s. His Nonesuch recording Scott Joplin: Piano Rags was released in 1970 and sold more than 100,000 copies in its first year, eventually becoming the label’s first million-selling record. The album was nominated for two Grammy Awards, and in 1979 Alan Rich wrote in New York magazine that by giving artists like Rifkin the opportunity to put Joplin’s music on record, Nonesuch “created, almost alone, the Scott Joplin revival.” Rifkin is also a scholar who has published research on composers from the Renaissance to the 20th century, and is famed among musicians for his influential theory that most of Bach’s choral works were sung with only one singer per choral line. He also created arrangements for The Baroque Beatles Book and for two albums by singer Judy Collins. Rifkin is currently Professor of Music at Boston University.

Jade Simmons, host and piano

Jade Simmons is a concert pianist, radio host, motivational speaker, and author who has performed in venues ranging from Ravinia to the White House. Her genre-bending concerts span repertoire from Rachmaninoff to rap, and she was named alongside former first lady Michelle Obama as a winner of Essence magazine’s Style & Substance Awards. She has starred in a Broadway-style musical called Lillette’s Rhythm Club and can be heard capturing Nina Simone’s classical beginnings in the Oscar-nominated documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? She is the author of the book Audacious Prayers for World Changers: Live and Pray Out Loud. Simmons is the host of American Public Media’s new podcast Decomposed and for WQXR she has created Courageously Classical, a live performance and interview show that will feature the world’s most adventurous musicians.


WQXR Presents: Scott Joplin at 150
Thursday, November 29, 7pm–8:15pm
The Greene Space
44 Charlton St., NYC (corner of Varick Street)
Tickets: $30, available at

WQXR 105.9 FM, which streams live at, is New York City’s only all-classical music station, immersing listeners in the city’s rich musical life. WQXR presents new and landmark classical recordings as well as live concerts from Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Philharmonic, among others. WQXR also broadcasts essential destination programs including New York Philharmonic This Week and Young Artists Showcase. For listeners in search of the new, WQXR operates New Sounds, a hand-crafted, genre-free home for the musically curious, with a 24/7 radio station, a slate of podcasts, and live video sessions with dynamic and emerging artists, all available at Operavore is WQXR’s opera site featuring news, interviews, and commentaries from the world of opera, as well as a 24/7 all-opera stream. provides essential playlist information and online listening, as well as original content, host blogs, NYC cultural news, and videos. The station’s free mobile app allows listeners to take WQXR with them wherever they go. As a public radio station, WQXR is supported by the generosity of its members and sponsors, making classical music relevant, accessible and inspiring for listeners in New York City and around the globe.


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© 21C Media Group, November 2018

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