Scott Joplin (1868-1917) was an African-American composer pianist and music teacher. Joplin achieved fame for his “ragtime” compositions and was known as the King of Ragtime. During his brief career, he wrote over 100 original ragtime music pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas. He began publishing music in 1895 and publication of his “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 brought him fame. This piece had a profound influence on writers of ragtime. He died in 1917 at the age of 48.
Joplin’s music was rediscovered and returned to popularity in the early 1970s with the release of a million-selling recording by Joshua Rifkin. Then in 1973 the Oscar Award-winning film “The Sting” featured several of Joplin’s compositions, most notably “The Entertainer”, a piece performed by pianist Marvin Hamlisch that received wide airplay. 1976 Joplin was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize “bestowed posthumously in this Bicentennial Year, for his contributions to American music”.
Carter G. Woodson was born in Virginia in 1875, the son of former slaves. Woodson had to put off schooling while he worked in the coal mines of West Virginia. Despite this difficult start in life, his determination to gain a decent education and to help the underprivileged in society enabled him to graduate from college and become a teacher and school administrator. He gained graduate degrees at the University of Chicago and in 1912 was the second African American, after W.E.B. Du Bois, to obtain a PhD degree from Harvard University. Most of Woodson’s academic career was spent at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C., where he eventually served as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Woodson died suddenly from a heart attack in the study room in his house in Washington in April 1950.
The Educator, Author, and African American civil rights leader Mary Mcleod Bethune was born in Mayesville, South Carolina in 1875 to parents who had been slaves. She started working in fields with her family at age five but took an early interest in becoming educated. With the help of benefactors, Bethune attended college hoping to become a missionary in Africa but eventually established a school for African-American girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. It later merged with a private institute for African-American boys and was known as the Bethune-Cookman School. Bethune maintained high standards and promoted the school with tourists and donors, to demonstrate what educated African Americans could do. She was president of the college from 1923 to 1942, and 1946 to 1947. She was one of the few women in the world to serve as a college president at that time. After working on the presidential campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, she was invited as a member of his “Black Cabinet.” She advised him on concerns of African Americans and helped share Roosevelt’s message and achievements with blacks, who had historically been Republican voters since the American Civil War. She also served as an adviser to four other Presidents of the United States. She died in 1955 aged 79.