Dancing to a Black Man's Tune
Last updated: 06.08.17
Printed: 1994 Author: Susan Curtis
Publisher: University of Missouri Press ISBN: 0826209491
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A Life of Scott Joplin (Missouri Biography Series)
Hardcover - 265 pages (June 1994), usually ships within 2-3 days.
Amazon Reviews
From Booklist , May 1, 1994
Staples of the 1960s ragtime revival, the compositions of Scott Joplin sprang back to life with real vengeance when his piano rag "The Entertainer" was chosen as the main theme of the Oscar-winning 1973 movie The Sting. More than a purveyor of catchily syncopated piano music, Joplin sought to create serious music that would speak for and to black America. Curtis sets Joplin in his context and evaluates the scope and importance of his contribution to American culture. She traces Joplin from his origins in Texas through his evolution as performer and composer in Missouri to his success after 1900--a saga that ended with a troubled stay in Harlem culminating in the failure of his opera, Treemonisha. She depicts Joplin as a composer who saw his work as assimilative, a cultural means through which blacks could join the rest of American society by discarding "primitive" qualities. Joplin sought to establish a distinctively black style of serious music grounded in vernacular musics. Especially good in avoiding clich{‚}es while discussing the tensions between white commercial demands on Joplin and his desire to compose his more serious music, this is a highly useful book well done. John Shreffler Copyright© 1994, American Library Association. All rights reserved

From Kirkus Reviews , April 1, 1994
Not really a biography, but an episodic social history centering on the life of ragtime composer Scott Joplin. Historian Curtis (Purdue; A Consuming Faith, not reviewed) has selected as her focus several key events in Joplin's life: his rural upbringing in Northern Texas; his undocumented visit to the 1903 St. Louis Exposition, where he may have performed; his years in Sedalia, Mo., where he created his greatest works; the Chicago World's Fair, another venue that he likely visited; and pre-WW I New York City. Part of the author's frustration (and the reader's) is what she calls Joplin's ``invisibility''; little documentary evidence, whether in Joplin's own hand or from contemporary newspaper accounts, survives to verify the often sketchy memories of his younger contemporaries. Curtis correctly states that part of the reason for Joplin's failure to leave much of a mark on his time was that he was a transitional figure, still subscribing to Victorian ideas of culture even as he announced a new musical world through his compositions. And she correctly notes the inherent racism in white America that denied Joplin performance opportunities or even much income from his work. But in analyzing Joplin's failure to leave a mark on either white or black culture, Curtis misses a fundamental point about his music: Joplin accepted the myth that European music was superior to his own ragtime and so wasted his last years toiling on the failed classical opera Treemonisha. The work's failure in both white and African-American communities was due to its old-fashioned, turn-of-the-century musical character, not to either racism or provincialism, as the author suggests. The text is also unfortunately marred by the author's use of trendy academic jargon. While it's refreshing to read a book about a popular musician written by someone with real credentials as a historian, Curtis sadly lacks enough knowledge about music to carry off her task. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.