More than 70 years after its composition, a Ragtime two step became a chart-topping recording.
“The Entertainer” was composed by Black composer Scott Joplin (1868-1917) in 1902, while living in Sedalia, Mo. Joplin and his family had lived in Sedalia several years during his childhood, and he returned there to perform and compose by 1899, the year his first composition, “The Maple Leaf Rag,” was published.
During that time period, published sheet music was the most popular method for composers and musicians alike to share the latest tunes. By the time “The Entertainer” was published, Joplin had composed and published dozens of popular tunes, including the “Sunflower Slow Drag,” “Peacherine Rag,” and the “Swipesy Cake Walk.”
Due to the emergence of new musical styles and tastes, Joplin’s compositions were all but forgotten until the 1970’s. Composer and conductor Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012) adapted several of Joplin’s original works as the musical score for the 1973 movie, “The Sting.” Directed by George Roy Hill, the film starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford, set in 1930’s Chicago.
Released as a 45 rpm single, “The Entertainer” climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard pop chart and Hamlisch won an Academy Award for the film score in 1974.
A reprint of the original sheet music featured the same artwork as published in 1902, with the exception of the publisher and price. John Stark & Son, Sheet Music Publisher of St. Louis, offered the sheet for 50 cents, while the reprint was produced by Jim Beck, The Music Publisher of Atlanta for $1.25.
Scott Joplin fans can get their fill of Ragtime music at the annual International Ragtime Festival held in Sedalia. Last year’s festival was cancelled due the Coronavirus pandemic but the 2021 festival is scheduled to take place on June 2 through 5.
Joplin’s most popular tune is now commonly used by ice cream trucks traveling through neighborhoods to attract customers.