Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” Hits Number One: June 6, 1903

Scott Joplin
Public Domain

The Scott Joplin tune “The Entertainer” was the best-selling piece of sheet music in the country on this date in 1903. Decades after he first wrote it, Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” would become number one again in 1977 with the release and success of the movie “The Sting,” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. 

The movie would help cement the popularity of the uniquely American form of music–a syncopated style that was one forerunner of jazz , and the leading style of American popular music from about 1899 to 1917. Ragtime evolved from honky-tonk piano players along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in the last decades of the 19th century.

Scott Joplin, born in 1868 in Texarkana, Texas, was an African American composer and pianist, widely recognized as the “King of Ragtime.” His early exposure to music came from his family, and he later received formal music education from local teachers. Joplin’s talent blossomed as he toured the Midwest, eventually settling in Missouri. He composed numerous ragtime pieces, with “Maple Leaf Rag” (1899) being his most famous work, which brought him considerable fame and financial success. Joplin’s compositions are known for their complex, syncopated rhythms and melodic ingenuity, which played a pivotal role in popularizing ragtime music at the turn of the 20th century.

Joplin’s legacy extends beyond his contributions to ragtime; he was a trailblazer for African American musicians and composers. Despite facing racial barriers, he achieved significant acclaim in a predominantly white-dominated music industry. His operas, particularly “Treemonisha,” reflected his ambition to elevate African American music to the classical stage, although they did not gain much recognition during his lifetime. Today, Joplin is celebrated for his role in shaping American music, and his works remain a cornerstone of the ragtime genre.