While there is uncertainty regarding Scott Joplin’s date of birth, considered to be in November 1868, there is less doubt as to his American birth-place: the developing border town Texarkana. This was situated in the north-eastern corner of Texas close to the state line that separated Texas from Arkansas. Born just six years after the abolition of slavery, Joplin’s father had been a slave while his mother was free born. His parents had amateur musical interests enabling him to grow up within a musically sympathetic home and by the age of seven he began piano lessons with a neighbouring white teacher. This local musician nurtured Joplin’s innate musical gifts and, as well as providing a rudimentary musical education, encouraged his life-long interest in music for the stage.
By the time he left school in Sedalia, Missouri, Joplin was sufficiently advanced to earn his living as a jobbing musician, playing the piano in bars and clubs, writing songs and performing in a dance band, playing piano, banjo and cornet. It was these early experiences that led him and other black musicians to ragtime, a style that had developed from his cultural environment and in particular the dance music of the black communities. In essence Ragtime was a fusion of African rhythms, derived from the black slave community, marching tunes and western European harmony emerging from native American composers such as Louis Gottschalk and Stephen Foster.