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He’s the King of Ragtime

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St. Michael's Cemetery, located in East Elmhurst, will host a Scott Joplin Retrospective and Memorial Concert, featuring a musical accompaniment and a discussion about Joplin. Musicians Reg Robinson, Peter Muir, and Aaron Diehl will perform. Also, the Vince Giordano Trio (Vince Giordano on the tuba, John Gill on the banjo, and Dan Levinson on clarinet) will be featured and Dr. Edward A. Berlin, the foremost authority on Joplin's life, will speak.In a telephone interview, Berlin credited Ed Horn, director of sales and marketing at St. Michael's Cemetery, with organizing and coordinating the event.Horn said he has much respect for the deceased composer, as well as a deep concern for the community surrounding the cemetery. "I have a personal interest in the community which St. Michael's serves," said Horn. When asked about his motivation for organizing the event, Horn said that the "King of Ragtime" still has a tremendous following. "The amazing part is that every single week someone shows up with a backpack" asking for directions to Joplin's grave, Horn said. He said "it was not difficult to decide" that a memorial event in Joplin's honor should be held at St. Michael's Cemetery.With respect to the musical genre, Berlin said, "The early references to ragtime were in newspapers in Kansas in 1863."The "King of Ragtime" was born in Texas, but Joplin's birth date is not known. While still a child, Joplin's family left the farm where his father, a former slave, worked, and the family relocated to Texarkana, Texas. Joplin taught himself the basic elements of music in the home of a white family where his mother was employed. Julius Weiss, a German-born music teacher, noticed Joplin's natural affinity for music. Weiss provided additional musical training to the young Joplin.During his teenage years, Joplin moved to Sedalia, Mo. According to research done by Berlin, the earliest reference to Joplin's musical career was mentioned in a newspaper in 1891. Joplin returned to Texarkana and played with a minstrel troupe. Subsequently, he had been spotted playing in the surrounding area of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. After the Chicago fair, "People left the fair talking about this great new music, ragtime," Berlin said.Joplin received additional musical training at the George R. Smith College in Sedalia, Mo.Joplin composed many works during his short lifetimes. His early works include "Please Say You Will and A Picture of Her Face." His other works include: "The Maple Leaf Rag," "The Chrysanthemum: An Afro-American Intermezzo," "Solace: A Mexican Serenade," "Treemonisha: An Opera," "The Entertainer," "The Easy Winners," "Swipesy," and the Ragtime waltz, "Bethena."The composer traveled and played at various events. When he was in Sedalia, he played at the Maple Leaf Social Club and the Black 400 Social Club, which were frequented by black men.The Maple Leaf Rag is the most famous of his piano rags. "It was imitated more than any other instrumental rag," said Berlin. "The Maple Leaf Rag was the dominant rag."Joplin died in 1917 and was buried in a community grave at St. Michael's Cemetery. Regarding the choice of St. Michael's as Joplin's burial site, Horn said, "There was no money behind him. There was no fanfare. He was simply an ordinary citizen when he came here."Still, there is no minimizing the success of Joplin's work, both in the United States and abroad. Ragtime remains of interest to enthusiasts all over the world. Horn said Dr. Peter Muir from England will also play at the memorial concert and the Wales-based "BBC Radio Four" will record the event."The piano will be set out. There will be a stage set up," said Horn. He said people should bring lawn chairs to the event, which he expects to attract a crowd. The Scott Joplin Retrospective and Memorial Concert will be held at St. Michael's Cemetery located at 72-02 Astoria Blvd. North, East Elmhurst. For additional information, please call St. Michael's Cemetery at 718-278-3240. Admission is free.

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