While not born in Sedalia, Scott Joplin will forever be known as a “native son” of the community. It was here in 1899 that Joplin, “the King of Ragtime,” composed the Maple Leaf Rag, giving birth to a new genre of music — music that was and remains uniquely American.
During the 38th annual Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival May 29 through June 1, international visitors and those from across the United States will be given the opportunity to hear ragtime performed by a group of world-class entertainers. Visitors and residents of Sedalia will have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Joplin.
While there is no formal tour this year, festival organizers have made note of 23 locations that played a role during Joplin’s life in Sedalia.
“Unfortunately, many of the significant Joplin sites no longer exist,” Sedalia historian Dr. Becky Imhauser explained. “We drove by vacant lots on the first tour.”
Last year, festival organizers decided to focus more on the locations that exist, mainly downtown, the Lincoln Hubbard School, and Bob Darch’s grave in Crown Hill Cemetery.
Prior tours were successful but organizers wanted to give individuals the opportunity to take a self-guided tour. In doing so individuals can visit sites of interest to them, spending as much time as they want at each location.
While each has ties to Joplin, Imhauser recommended the following locations that help in telling the story of Joplin’s almost decade-long stay in Sedalia.
Lincoln High School — 721 N. Osage Ave.
“…as he may have been a student at the all-black Lincoln High School up the street, Yes, it is hard to hear the music for the noise of all the young people playing on the playground,” Joplin biographer Ed Berlin wrote in the tour guide describing the school Joplin possibly attended.
A plaque honoring Joplin and his music was placed at the site in 1951 by the Sedalia Men’s Choral Club. Then-director of the Choral Club Abe Rosenthal responded to requests from a contemporary of Joplin’s, Brun Campbell, who advocated for a memorial to Joplin in Sedalia, according to Imhauser. The former school today serves as a senior living complex.
Maple Leaf Club Site — 121 E. Main St.
The Maple Leaf Club, then a “black gentlemen’s club,” is one site where Joplin performed. It was here that he was billed as “The Entertainer,” according to Berlin, who noted Joplin more than likely sang as he played the piano.
The club lasted only a “year or so, but it will forever be associated with his ‘Maple Leaf Rag,’” Berlin wrote. “Whether the piece was named for the club – to which it was later dedicated – or whether the Club was named for the music – which was probably already locally famous when the club was formed – we may never know.”
The Black 400 Club — 106 E. Main St.
A second site was Joplin was employed, Joplin was said to have performed on the second floor of the men’s establishment.
Members of both the Maple Leaf Club and the Black 400 Club were among the “most respected and successful of Sedalia’s black entrepreneurs,” according to Imhauser.
It was later the home to Archias Seed Store and today the building is vacant and in need of repairs to preserve the once grand establishment.
St. Louis Clothing Store — 201-203 S. Ohio Ave.
Another site where Joplin performed, the St. Louis Clothing store was important in Joplin’s musical history, according to Berlin’s writings, because “It was here that Joplin played for white audiences and where R.A. Higdon, a young attorney, often stood at the piano as the virtuoso composer played.” Higdon drafted the contract between Joplin and John Stark to publish “The Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899.
The John Starke & Sons Music Store — 114 E. Fifth St.
The agreement between Stark and Joplin was a “most important contract” for a number of reasons. Under the terms, Joplin was paid one cent for each copy of the “Maple Leaf Rag” sold. The piece would become the first ragtime composition to sell a million copies.
“Joplin would tell Marshall that this piece would make him the ‘King of Ragtime,’ but it made him more than that,” Melton wrote. “That business arrangement made a fortune for John Starke, and Joplin lived off the royalties for the rest of his life.”
With a number of other locations listed on a map included in the Joplin Festival program, event organizers hope many will find time to visit some of the sites. Some sites are private homes and organizers ask that individuals taking the tour are respectful of the owners’ and residents’ privacy. Festival programs are available at venue sites and the Ragtime Store inside the Hayden Liberty Center Association for the Arts, 111 W. 5th St., The Ragtime Store is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day of the Festival.