A Year of Hope for Joplin and Johnson

In 1910, the boxer Jack Johnson and the musician Scott Joplin embodied a new sense of possibility for African-Americans

Jack Johnson, left, fought Jim Jeffries for more than the undisputed heavyweight title; Scott Joplin aspired to more than "King of Ragtime" renown. (George Arents Collection / New York Public Library / Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations; The Granger Collection, New York)
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In 1972, Treemonisha finally was given its world première, by conductor Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, together with the music department of Morehouse College. “Warmth seemed to radiate from the stage to the capacity audience and back,” wrote the Atlanta Journal and Constitution’s music critic, Chappell White, and while it was clear that Joplin “was an amateur in the literary elements of opera,” his work reflected “remarkable daring and originality.” Three years later, a production by the Houston Grand Opera played for eight weeks on Broadway. And in 1976, the Pulitzer Prize committee awarded Scott Joplin a posthumous citation for his contributions to American music.

In July 2009, both houses of Congress passed a resolution urging President Obama to pardon Jack Johnson posthumously for his 1913 conviction under the Mann Act. As of press time, the White House had declined to say how the president would act.

Michael Walsh is the author of a biography of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The most recent of his several novels is Hostile Intent.


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