Remembering Scott Joplin

The atmosphere at St. Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst was fun, light, and jovial on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon.

Celebration filled the air from 2 to 4:30 p.m. as around 400 people sat on lawn chairs and blankets listening to the Canary Cottage Dance Orchestra (a six piece ragtime-period ensemble), the Victorian Vaudeville Barbershop Quartette, and vocalist Molly Ryan’s homage to the “King of Ragtime” Scott Joplin.

The composer, musician, and Pulitzer Prize winner for his special contributions to American music whose notable works include “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag” was honored at the 6th Annual Scott Joplin Memorial Concert at his place of burial.

Joplin enthusiasts and locals filled the crowd enjoying a classic auto show and free barbecue courtesy of Celeste Beatty of the Harlem brewery, Sugar Hill Golden Ale. Beatty is also a direct descendant of a member of Joplin’s band. Notably absent were local elected officials to which St Michael’s Cemetery spokesperson Ed Horn observed, “It wasn’t an election year.”

Although Joplin did not receive great recognition during his short lifetime, which ended on April 1, 1917 when the 49-year-old died of insanity due to advanced syphilis, the fact was overshadowed by the event’s landmark performance of “Treemonisha.” This Joplin song has not been performed in the barbershop quartette fashion since Joplin last played it in Syracuse, NY with his Texas Medley Quartette 116 years ago.

The May 14 event closed with a performance of “Maple Leaf Rag,” which became ragtime’s first and most influential hit. The tune closes each annual concert since, contrary to Joplin’s wishes, his wife refused to have it played at his funeral.

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