Today, birthdays are very carefully recorded, but no one knows for sure exactly when Scott Joplin was born. According to the United States census taken in July of 1870, Scott Joplin was two years old. And no one is sure where Joplin was born, either — it was probably in northeast Texas.
Scott Joplin’s father was born into slavery in North Carolina; his mother was a freeborn woman from Kentucky. Both his parents were musical. When his parents separated, Scott’s mother supported the family by cleaning houses, and he was allowed to use the piano in one of those houses. He taught himself to play.
As a teenager, Joplin started traveling. In Missouri, he played piano in saloons; for the 1893 World’s Fair, he headed to Chicago, and played cornet in a band. After spending some time in college, Joplin moved on to St. Louis, the hotbed of ragtime music. Eventually, he wound up in New York City.
Scott Joplin wrote some songs and stage works, but he’s best known as one of the greatest composers of piano rags. In 1976 — almost 60 years after Scott Joplin died — his opera Treemonisha was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.