This upbeat event pays homage to the King of Ragtime near his final resting place in East Elmhurst.

With live music, dancing, speeches and a barbecue, St. Michael’s Cemetery will host its annual Tribute to Scott Joplin on Saturday, May 19. Admission is free.

At about 1:30 p.m., noted scholar Edward A. Berlin, who has written several books and essays on Joplin, will offer a lecture on his idol’s life and impact on American music. Then at 2 p.m., Dan Levinson and his Canary Cottage Dance Orchestra will perform tunes by Joplin and other composers from the Ragtime Era with accompaniment by the Victrolian Vaudeville Barbershop Quartet. This same quartet will close out the event by singing “We Will Rest Awhile” from Joplin’s opera “Treemonisha” at his gravesite.

In total, Joplin wrote 44 original Ragtime pieces as well as a ballet and two operas. (An early precursor of jazz, Ragtime features syncopated melodies that African Americans made famous in the late 19th century.) He had his first hit in 1899 with the “Maple Leaf Rag,” which catapulted the genre from low-class bars and brothels to major arts centers and worldwide popularity. However, he is most famous for “The Entertainer” and other songs that were part of the soundtrack for “The Sting,” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The 1973 film won an Oscar for Original Score, and Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

Joplin was born in 1867 (or maybe 1868) in Northeastern Texas. An African-American man in a segregated society, he roamed a bit looking for work before settling in as a piano teacher in Sedalia, Missouri. Seeking a producer for his many works, he ended up in New York City, where he died without money or fame in 1917.

He was buried in St. Michael’s in an unmarked grave. (He might have been a member of St. Michael’s Church in Manhattan.) The plot stayed anonymous until the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers located it in 1974, during the Ragtime resurrection that “The Sting” had ignited.

The entrance to St. Michael’s is at 72-02 Astoria Blvd. S., just off the Grand Central Parkway. The most direct route there via public transportation is to take the N or Q train to the Astoria Boulevard/31st Street stop and then transfer to a Jackson Heights-bound Q19 bus.

Images: St. Michael’s Cemetery


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