Nicknamed the “King of Ragtime Writers,” Joplin wrote 44 ragtime compositions, including one of his first and most popular hits, “Maple Leaf Rag.” He also wrote two operas, such as “Treemonisha” and a ragtime ballet, “The Ragtime Dance.”
Over the course of his career, he published over 75 works, becoming a pioneer and refining ragtime to a much higher standard than music simply being performed at establishments such as brothels and pubs. In 1976, he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize award.
When he passed away in 1917, some believed that it marked the end of ragtime as a more prominent musical style, which allowed genres such as jazz to evolve from it during the following years.
Joplin, who passed away at the age of 49, was buried at St. Michael’s cemetery in 1917. Ed Horn, director at St. Michael’s Cemetery, contacted author and biographer Dr. Edward Berlin about Joplin when he began working at the cemetery and discovered paperwork on the star’s grave. The two men initially organized the concert and each year since, they’ve celebrated Joplin’s music.
Horn added that for some unexplained reason, Joplin’s wife wouldn’t allow anyone to play “Maple Leaf Rag,” which is what makes this celebration all the more special.
“He’s actually buried between two strangers which was the practice of communal graves in those days,” Horn said. “But they’ve dedicated a plaque to him and we put on a concert every year, and he is honored.”
Each year, the concert becomes more popular. Hundreds turned up to Saturday’s performance featuring Vince Giordano and His Night Hawks. The effortless way the band beautifully performed his music would’ve made Joplin proud.
Following the concert, many people trek over to the common grave to pay their respects to the musical genius.
While listening to Vince Giordano and His Night Hawks, guests also received free barbecue and dessert, fully paid for by St. Michael’s. Due to the popularity of their events and their community involvement, St. Michael’s has become a resource for community services. Although everything was free, St. Michael’s did ask guests to bring canned food for Council Member Costa Constantinides’ ongoing Food Drive.
Constantinides spoke about his appreciation for St. Michael’s efforts at the concert, adding that there are so many people in the community who are in need but through the community and St. Michael’s, there is good being done for fellow community members.
“Here at St. Michael’s, we celebrate life, we are not a warehouse for the past,” Horn said, summing the day up nicely.