Read Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin by Susan Curtis Online


By using Scott Joplin's life as a window onto American social and cultural development at the turn of the century, this biography dramatizes the role of one brilliant African American musician in defining the culture of a still-young nation....

Title : Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin
Author :
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ISBN : 9780826215475
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 288 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin Reviews

  • Robin Friedman
    2019-05-23 09:53

    The Worlds Of Scott JoplinScott Joplin (1868 -- 1917)was a great composer of the unique American music known as ragtime. Ragtime flourished from roughly 1900 -- 1920 when it faded into obscurity with the advent of jazz. It enjoyed a revival beginning in the 1970s with the movie "The Sting", several popular recordings, and the production of Joplin's opera Treemonisha. Ragtime is an enchanting American music, both lyrical and strongly rhythmical that has components of both classical music and jazz. I greatly enjoy playing Joplin's rags on the piano as well as the rags of his lesser-known but gifted colleagues, James Scott and Joseph Lamb.A full account of ragtime and its place in American culture remains to be written. Susan Curtis's book, "Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin" is a start. Dr Curtis is Professor of History and American Studies and Director of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University. It is thus understandable that her book draws widely on American history and on relationships between African Americans and whites in attempting to understand Scott Joplin and ragtime.Dr. Curtis discusses the important stages in Joplin's life and relates them to ongoing events in the United States with an emphasis on how African American - white relations impacted his music. She emphasizes, and necessarily so, the effects of slavery (one of Joplin's parents had been a slave) and of Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Dr. Curtis describes how African Americans remained on the outside of white America to a large extent. Still, African American music, ragtime in particular, had a great appeal for white Americans and led to the ideal of an inter-racial American culture.But Dr. Curtis's book shows, I think, that African American -- white relationships resist any simple summary. Joplin surely suffered from the effects of slavery and the rise of Jim Crow and from discrimination throughout his life. But Dr. Curtis also points out the ways in which black and white people worked together, how white people helped Joplin, and how Joplin encouraged the work of white composers of "negro" music. Joplin received piano lessons as a child from a German immigrant who recognized his talent. His music gained attention, probably, at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 even though it lacked official status. There was substantial efforts at inter-racial harmony in Sedalia, Missouri where Joplin settled after a lengthy period as a wandering musician. His music was published and supported by John Stark, a white entrepreneur and he received encouragement from other white critics. When he moved to New York City, Joplin befriended and assisted in the publication of rags by Joseph Lamb, a gifted white composer of the music. Thus there was a great deal of complex interaction between black and white people in the origins and development of ragtime.The book includes considerations of Joplin's childhood in Texas, his years as a wandering musician, his life in Sedalia which saw the publication of "Maple Leaf Rag" and other early successes, and his final years in New York. The discussion is informed by a great deal of consideration of American history which sometimes causes the book to lose focus. Dr Curtis shows well how Americans were fascinated by ragtime, although the music was subjected to severe and frequently racist opposition, due to the vicarious opportunity it offered to escape late 19th Century Victorian conventions, particularly those sexual in nature, and to liberate oneself.I found the most insightful sections of Dr. Curtis's book were those that discussed Joplin's relationship with the African American community of his day. When he experienced a degree of success, Joplin moved to New York City but failed in his efforts to gain acceptance by many of the African American musicians and intellectuals in Harlem. Dr Curtis suggests that Joplin had experienced for himself the poverty and difficulty of life in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War while many of the Northern African American leaders, such as W.E.B. DuBois, had themselves received excellent educations and knew this life only at second-hand. The best section of the book for me thus was Dr. Curtis's treatment of Joplin's failed opera Treemonisha, on which he lavished a great deal of attention following his move to New York. This folk-opera, in dialect (Joplin wrote his own libretto) was probably autobiographical in nature and described life in the rural South following the Civil War. It was out-of step with the then-beginning Harlem Renaissance. Dr Curtis shows how ragtime showed disagreements within the African American community as well as occupying an ambiguous position in promoting black and white relationships.The tone of the book is rather dry and academic. I found this unfortunate, scholarly as the book is, in that any book on ragtime or on music, scholarly or not, needs to sing to be effective. I found Dr. Curtis gave too little attention to the purely musical aspects of ragtime. The book has an extensive bibliography, good notes, and shows thought. Dr. Curtis sees ragtime as a step in the direction of an American culture which transcends racial lines and is shared by all Americans. She points out that this is a goal and ideal which has proved elusive and is worth pursuing by Americans today. By writing seriously about Scott Joplin and about ragtime, Dr Curtis's book may take a step in that direction.Robin Friedman

  • Mills College Library
    2019-05-12 11:43

    Biog J825c 1994

  • Stven
    2019-05-12 07:56

    Rated 4 stars because it went into the level of detail I needed for an article I was writing without being hopelessly dry as some works of scholarly research tend to be.