Scott Joplin – to Infinity and beyond

If you have played Bioshock: Infinite you will have found yourself humming a beautiful melody that plays while levels are loading throughout the game.

Although a familiar tune to me, I was keen to find out what it was and using the very helpful SoundHound for iPhone the answer soon came: Solace by Scott Joplin. A name as familiar as the tune, but in the same way I was annoyed that I didn’t have any actual knowledge to justify the familiarity. Further investigation was urgently needed.

Research called on two more of my favourite apps – Spotify and Wikipedia.

Spotify revealed a positive treasure trove of recordings – so many of them songs that have punctuated all of our lives through popular media, yet the origin had passed me by. Who was this genius? Surely a highly educated, classically trained musician – probably from an affluent middle class white background. How wrong could I be.

Wikipedia introduced me to a story that couldn’t be more different and incredibly inspirational.

Scott Joplin was the son of former slaves, born in Texas less than a couple years after the abolition of slavery. Although from a musical family, their labourers income could not stretch to affording quality musical instruments but the young Joplin was fortunate enough to have access to a piano (owned by a local white family), with which he taught himself to play.

Through his life he perfected the early jazz ‘rag time’ style that is so evocative of the era, and arguably wrote the soundtrack to turn-of-the-century America, that went on to be featured in well known movies and TV shows such as the Oscar winning The Sting.

Although in his life time Joplin achieved reasonable success, it was not huge, and tragically before he eventually died from dementia in a mental institution in 1917 aged just 49, his biggest regret was that he felt he had not achieved his ambition to be the most successful African-American songwriter of his time.

In the decades after his death however his music was to become incredibly popular, achieving astounding success. Performed and recorded countless times across the world, literally woven into the fabric of popular culture and ultimately to make Scott Joplin posthumously achieve his dream by some considerable margin.

Listen to the oldest surviving recording of ‘Maple Leaf Rag’, recorded I’m 1906.

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Comments (2)

  1. Robert

    A worthy article Adam. The Sting is one of those great cinema scores. Timeless music is … well … timeless, and it is great to see young generations enjoying “old” music, even if it is often through the medium of TV advertising.

  2. admin

    Thanks Robert. I’m very keen to promote music and musicians older than a decade as it’s surprising how even relatively recent compositions can be lost amidst contemporary generations. How many cover versions have come to eclipse the original – despite the latter frequently being better than the cover!

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