Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplinby Susan Curtis
In the early twentieth century, as Americans enjoyed ragtime, they danced to a black man's tune. In this interpretive biography, Susan Curtis recounts the life of Scott Joplin, the great African American ragtime composer whose musical genius helped break down racial barriers and led America to a new cultural frontier. Born in 1868 to former slaves, Scott Joplin lived… See more details below
In the early twentieth century, as Americans enjoyed ragtime, they danced to a black man's tune. In this interpretive biography, Susan Curtis recounts the life of Scott Joplin, the great African American ragtime composer whose musical genius helped break down racial barriers and led America to a new cultural frontier. Born in 1868 to former slaves, Scott Joplin lived at a time when white Americans routinely denied African Americans basic civil rights, economic opportunities, and social standing. In spite of these tremendous obstacles, Joplin and other musicians created a musical form that was eagerly embraced by white, middle-class Americans. By the early 1900s, many writers agreed that "Negro" music - especially spirituals and ragtime - was the only true American music. As one of the creators of ragtime, Joplin moved between black and white society, and his experience offers a window into the complex forces of class, race, and culture that shaped modern America. Framed by two decisive events in American history, the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1868 and America's entrance into the Great War in Europe in 1917, Scott Joplin's extraordinary life illuminates a crucial period in the evolution of American culture. During those years Joplin lived in a variety of communities, and his experience permits a glimpse into the ways black and white Americans responded to this changing culture in Reconstruction Texas, small-town Missouri, and two important urban cultural centers - St. Louis and New York. Echoing the ragtime music she celebrates, Curtis counterpoints the story of American cultural history with the fascinating events of Joplin's life. Dancing to Black Man's Tune is an engaging, beautifully written portrait of a great American musician and of American culture coming of age.
"Dancing to a Black Man's Tune renders Scott Joplin as a man and an artist whose musical genius served as his weapon in the struggle toward a whole America. Susan Curtis's book is more than biography, more than cultural history. It is a skillfully interwoven telling of Joplin's story within the mosaic of America's social and cultural evolution at the turn of the century."
John Hope Franklin
"If one is to know American culture and the place and trials and tribulations' of African American music in setting the foundation and flavor of American music, Dancing to a Black Man's Tune is, to date, the primary source. . . . This is a book that students of American serious and popular culture should quickly read and place in their libraries."Journal of American History
"Curtis sets Joplin in his context and evaluates the scope and importance of his contribution to American culture. . . . Especially good in avoiding clichés 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."Booklist
"Curtis has written a fine book with a broad scope, one that needed to be written. . . . Curtis has set impressive standards of historical inquiry in this book, creating a lucid argument about the meaning of Scott Joplin and ragtime."Gateway Heritage
"What makes this biography truly outstanding is the author's skillful and always sharply analytical exploration of the varied worlds in which Joplin traveled. . . . Curtis has composed an appealing tune of her owna fine book that deserves a hearty ovation."Historian
"For those who have fallen in love with Joplin's joyfully syncopated rags . . . or those who simply want to better understand the roots of the black contribution to American music, it is a rewarding read."Christian Science Monitor
"Dancing to a Black Man's Tune is a much-needed addition. Aside from the general value of placing Joplin's life within the complex and dynamic cultural changes of his time, Curtis introduces or reinforces extremely important, but typically overlooked, facts. . . . This is a significant contribution to the study of Joplin and his music and to the study of American culture."
Journal of Southern History
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