Composer Scott Joplin is known historically as the father of the “Ragtime” sound that led the late 1800’s. His famous song called “The Entertainer” was a highlight of the movie “The Sting.” But Scott Joplin wasn’t just about a hit music genre. He used his expertise to fight for the education of African-Americans. Though ragtime music was his claim to fame, Joplin switched to operas in 1903 to show the other side of his music prowess. His first opera was called “A Guest of Honor.” Unfortunately, by this time, Joplin had contracted syphilis and was debilitated and unable to pay his bills. The opera was confiscated by debtors.
Joplin’s second piece called “Treemonisha” was an elaborate opera about an educated black woman that overcame racial ignorance and intolerance. For weeks, Joplin walked the streets looking for a taker of his 230-page opera, but no one was willing to look into a black man’s opera. Not to mention, the production was a complicated piece that the average music lover could not take home and play for entertainment purposes. In an effort to gain financial supporters of his project, Joplin held a small production of a portion of “Treemonisha” with a disappointing turnout.
Joplin used all of his energy and sanity to get his message across that African-Americans could present educated works that paralleled the quality of the greatest classical composers. He died broke and weak from syphilis and depression in 1917 after giving his life to the distribution of his music and his masterpieces of opera.
It wasn’t until 1970 that Joplin’s “Treemonisha” went public and was fully produced. It was a big success.