Wednesday, March 27, 2013

“Scott Joplin’s Interview a Century Later: Composing an African American Cultural Legacy” First Weiner Public Lecture, Rolla, MO, April 15, 2013, Prof. Susan Curtis

Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin
Susan Curtis; University of Missouri Press (2004)

Scott Joplin (c. 1867-1917) was an African-American composer and pianist of ragtime and classical music.  He is profiled at, which relies extensively on an authoritative biography, Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin, written by Susan Curtis and published in 2004 by the University of Missouri Press.  Susan Curtis is Professor of History and American Studies at Purdue University.

AfriClassical has invited Prof. Curtis to comment on the latest version of the Scott Joplin page at the website.  She has replied, in part:

"Dear Mr. Zick,

I have visited your website several times and I’m deeply honored to have my work on Scott Joplin featured so prominently."  "As the Maxwell C. Weiner Visiting Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Missouri University of Science and Technology for this semester, I will be giving a couple of public lectures, one of which will be about Scott Joplin...a version of that talk is attached.  If it seems suitable for your Joplin blog, I would like very much to have you post it.

Here’s wishing you all the best,
Susan Curtis"

“Scott Joplin’s Interview a Century Later: Composing an African American Cultural Legacy

First Weiner Public Lecture, Rolla, MO, April 15, 2013 

Susan Curtis

In April 1913, almost exactly a century ago, the New York Age published an interview with Scott Joplin, the great African American composer of ragtime music. It is, to my knowledge, the only interview with Joplin that is extant today. It appeared in a prominent black weekly that enjoyed a national readership and on a page edited by a noted music and drama critic, Lester A. Walton. The interview is short—in essence, Joplin claims significance for the music he had written and advanced as well as frustration with the fact that his music has been misunderstood. It invites us, a century later, to reflect on Scott Joplin’s musical legacy as a revealing moment in U.S. history.
But I want to suggest something more. That is, there’s something more than a century anniversary of an episode in the life of an American composer at stake here. We must remember that the Scott Joplin we honor today was, for decades, forgotten—relegated to the unimportant selvages of the fabric of American culture. When we listen to his words today, we must apprehend the limited audience that encountered them in 1913. Thus, the point of this meditation is twofold. First, I want to share with you what Joplin had to say about the musical genre with which his name is associated and to explore why his work appeared in the New York Age at that particular moment. Second, I want to think about the high price we, as a society, have paid for not hearing him in the first place. Taken together, I hope these two pieces will help us see how and why history matters.
I. Scott Joplin and Classic Ragtime
It is not entirely clear to me why Lester Walton decided to make Joplin’s words the lead story in his “Theatrical Comment” on April 3, 1913. As far as I can tell, Walton and Joplin had a vexed relationship with one another. The two knew each other in St. Louis in the early 1900s—they both spent time at Tom Turpin’s Rosebud Café and claimed many of the same friends. Walton was a native son of the Mound City, having been born there in 1879. He graduated from Sumner High School in 1897, and in 1902, Walton began working as a reporter for the St. Louis Star, covering both the four courts and the golf beat. Joplin, of course, was not a native Missourian, but he had lived in the state since 1893 when he moved to Sedalia after having been in Chicago at the World’s Columbian Exposition. Joplin had obtained a patchy education as a youngster in Texarkana, but he took at least some courses on music at the George R. Smith College for Negroes in Sedalia before moving to St. Louis in late 1900 or early 1901. Joplin and Walton left St. Louis at about the same time, too—both seeking their fortunes in New York City in the field of entertainment.1
In spite of these shared experiences and common ties to St. Louis, there is little evidence of a friendship between them, even though they traveled in some of the same circles in their new home. Walton was one of the founders and officers of the Colored Vaudevillian Benevolent Association (C.V.B.A.); Joplin became a member and took an active part in C.V.B.A.—sponsored events.2 Walton achieved a position of considerable influence as the drama critic and editor of a popular page called initially “Music and the Stage” shortly after his arrival in the city. Except for a few brief notices, however, he rarely touted Joplin’s talent as a composer. Indeed, before publishing the interview with Joplin, Walton promoted other musicians much more enthusiastically than his fellow St. Louisan. For some reason, Walton kept Joplin at arm’s length.
In 1913, however, Walton shone the spotlight on Scott Joplin. He entitled the segment, “Detriment to Ragtime,” and opened the piece with the observation that “There is no harm in musical sounds”—regardless of whether they came from an up-tempo piece of ragtime or a slow melodic song. He then turned the next paragraphs over to Joplin, whom he described as “one of the world’s greatest writers of ragtime.” Joplin’s comments disparaged musicians who wrote tasteless lyrics for their otherwise beautiful pieces of music, and he argued that objections to ragtime music more often than not stemmed from “vulgar words” rather than from the music itself.
In the remaining paragraphs devoted to his comments, Joplin made two claims that form the basis of the legacy he sought to compose for himself. The first was to establish ragtime as a distinctly African American musical genre. “Ragtime rhythm,” he insisted, “is a syncopation original with the colored people though many of them are ashamed of it. But the other races throughout the world are learning to write and make use of ragtime melodies.”3 Attribution of ragtime to African Americans had been common about a decade earlier, although the associations made by white writers for The Etude and Grove’s Dictionary of Music were not particularly flattering.4 Joplin’s desire to establish African American origins for ragtime must be seen in response to an increasing detachment of African Americans from the music in the mainstream press. In a classic case of what Eric Lott called “love and theft,” Irving Berlin and Louis Hirsch—not Scott Joplin—were touted as the standard-bearers for American ragtime music.5 Here, Joplin took pleasure in the fact that “other races” had been inspired by the genius of composers of African descent, like himself, but he did not wish to surrender originality to those who had followed. At the same time, Joplin felt compelled to acknowledge and explain criticism of ragtime that had come from African Americans. He likely still remembered the harsh denunciations of ragtime like the one that appeared in The Negro Music Journal in 1903, which called ragtime a “low and degrading class of music.”6 Instead of a reason for race pride, the writer no doubt recoiled from music written by African Americans that was widely condemned by white, middle-class arbiters of American culture. In 1913, Joplin sought to reclaim credit for the musical innovation and to distance himself from some lyrics that had dragged down the race.
Beyond claiming credit for a form of which “white people took no notice” until about 1893, Joplin also linked his musical efforts to classical music. He wrote: “If some one were to put vulgar words to a strain of one of Beethoven’s Symphonies, people would begin saying, ‘I don’t like Beethoven’s Symphonies.’ So it is the unwholesome words and not the ragtime melodies that many people hate.”7 Joplin claimed classical status indirectly by comparing his music with that of Beethoven. Such a move was, unfortunately, necessary because of Joplin’s limited success in promoting his serious work. His great triumph, of course, was the completion of an opera, Treemonisha, in 1911. An anonymous reviewer for The American Musician asserted that Joplin had “created an entirely new phase of musical art and ha[d] produced a thoroughly American opera, dealing with a typical American subject, yet free from all extraneous influence.” The reviewer saw Joplin as an heir to Antonin Dvorak’s daring effort to incorporate African American musical riffs in New World Symphony, and he considered the composer to be for African American music what Booker T. Washington and Paul Laurence Dunbar were for African American letters.8 Two years later, however, Joplin still sought a financial backer and producer willing to stage what the reviewer had called an “interesting and potent achievement.”
Joplin had faced similar problems ten years earlier when he completed his first opera, A Guest of Honor, which likely dramatized Booker T. Washington’s formal invitation to dinner at the White House with Theodore Roosevelt in the spring of 1902. Joplin had the music, the book, actors, and a venue, but he failed to secure the necessary financial backing to present the opera to the public.9 At about the same time, Joplin finished an extraordinary ballet making use of syncopated music and popular dances. He called the work The Ragtime Dance. John Stark, the publisher who had dubbed Joplin “The King of Ragtime Writers,” refused to publish it. Stark’s refusal does not necessarily mean that he failed to see the large vision displayed by Joplin; rather, he rightly could not imagine his customers knowing what to make of the work as a piece of sheet music. Stark’s daughter Nellie pressured him to publish the piece, but without the whole concept—music and staged dance—it made little sense to Stark’s clientele, and the poor sales confirmed for Stark that Joplin’s value to him lay exclusively in strictly instrumental numbers that could be marketed as “classic ragtime.”10
Stark was not alone in seeing the classical elements in Joplin’s work. Alfred Ernst and Monroe Rosenfeld saw great potential in Joplin’s early compositions. The St. Louis Globe Democrat reported that Ernst had invited Joplin to accompany him on a European tour so that he could learn more about “compositions of a higher class.” Two years later, Rosenfeld endorsed Joplin as the “King of Ragtime Writers” who eventually would reach his full potential when he turned from popular music to opera.11 John Stark advertised Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag as the product of a composer with “the skill of a Beethoven” combined with the “sentiment of a Black Mamma’s croon.”12 In the two years following Joplin’s New York Age interview, Stark published lengthy advertisements in Christensen’s Ragtime Review that equated ragtime with classical music. As he wrote of Joplin’s compositions in 1915, “We have advertised these as classic rags, and we mean just what we say. . . . They have lifted ragtime from its low estate and lined it up with Beethoven and Bach.”13
Except for these fleeting moments of praise and respect, Joplin never achieved fame as a classical American composer during his lifetime. Clearly, this interview, however much it might have meant to the composer, did nothing to alter the musical hierarchy of 1913. He had written two operas, an ambitious modern ballet, and a score of more accessible pieces ranging in form from waltzes and marches to two-steps and slow drags. Joplin had gathered around him a group of talented students who had collaborated with him and had published compositions of their own. But in New York, he still seemed to be looking for his niche. And whatever he thought Walton might do for him, Joplin knew that his fellow St. Louisan had been fickle up to this point. While The American Musician had published a full-blown review of his opera, Walton had published a disappointing notice under the promising title, “Latest Negro Opera.”14 And although Walton was one of the founding members of the “Frogs,” a social organization of African American performers devoted to preserving the best of African American thought and expression, Joplin never appeared in any of the articles about the group’s activities.
So what might have made Walton “interview” a composer who, for reasons unknown to us today, triggered such ambivalence? Like so much of what we know of both the composer and the critic, Walton’s decision to print an interview with Joplin is shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, a number of events immediately preceding and following the interview provide a context within which we can speculate. But at this point, we must broaden the frame from Joplin to survey the prevailing conditions for African American artists and performers in 1913. In doing so, we enter Walton’s world.
II. Walton’s World
Few individuals had as great a shaping influence on the world of African American art and performance in the early twentieth century as Lester A. Walton. He occupied a curious insider/outsider position as critic and editor, on one hand, and leader of and participant in the performance community, on the other. At a time when George Jean Nathan, the witty drama critic for H. L. Mencken’s Smart Set, was establishing what would become the standard for American drama criticism, Walton was developing a very different kind of relationship between the critic and the performer. Unlike Nathan and his followers, who took pleasure in withering comments directed at actors, playwrights, and directors and self-aggrandizing displays of knowledge and sophistication, Walton sought the tone of an educator. Make no mistake, Walton could find fault with the best of them, skewering performers for excessive staginess, criticizing singers for ragged entries, and pommeling playwrights for questionable dialogue. But he also always used his columns to comment on the political or social value of the stage in breaking down racial prejudice and misunderstanding. He devoted columns to exploring individual performers’ keys to success, to penning inspiring biographies, and to offering insights into standard business practices to readers who most likely had limited access to education. On occasion, he turned the columns over to performers, professionals in the community, and clergymen so as to give them a platform from which to address a wider audience than they typically reached. And Walton frequently printed excerpts from other newspapers to keep his readers apprised of contemporary (usually white) attitudes toward African American performers and culture.15
In the weeks leading up to Joplin’s interview, Walton devoted much of his attention to the founding of a “colored stock company” at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem. Whispers began in late February that plans were in the works, and by early March it looked to be a done deal. Walton discussed the group before it ever appeared on the stage: “The debut of the colored stock company at the Lafayette Theatre is full of significance and means much to the colored theatrical professions, yes far more than it does to the owners of the theatre. It is, therefore, incumbent on all parties concerned to put their shoulder to the wheel to make the company’s appearance a big success.”16 He announced with delight that “Will Marion Cook, the foremost musician of the race” would essentially serve as conductor and musical director of the company. The larger significance of this venture was, for Walton, a re-energizing of African American performance in the wake of the deaths of prominent black stars like Ernest Hogan and George Walker. It was a chance to bring an African American perspective back to the American stage.
But as Walton well knew, racial discrimination on the stage in the United States meant that African American actors were left to their own devices to learn how to act or sing or dance or write stage plays. The deeper significance of the stock company was to provide experience for talented performers that they would never get in mainstream theaters. He let Cook himself explain how this issue animated the company: “The founders of this organization aim to put into characteristic, a musical and dramatic form, real pictures of Negro life both of city and plantation. The authors of the playlets will at first treat of the lighter humorous characteristics of their people until Negro actors shall have obtained a surer stage technique. The Negro talent for music and dramatic expression is now unquestioned. The Negro Players hope to aid in the development and perfection of this talent.”17 No one understood the importance of this experience better than Cook. He had studied at the Oberlin Conservatory as a teenager, spent two years studying with a violin master in Berlin, and eventually entered the National Conservatory of Music in Washington, D. C., where he coincided with Antonin Dvořák. Cook was one of the students who influenced the great composer to interweave African American motifs into his New World Symphony. In spite of having earned stellar credentials like these, Cook could not find steady employment as a musician in organizations that were dominated by whites. Although he had enjoyed the benefits of instruction from some of the finest musicians of his day, Cook recognized that being barred from white orchestras, ensembles, and stages meant that continued development would depend on a community of artists and performers who, though extremely talented, did not enjoy the imprimatur of the so-called legitimate stage.18
Before the month of March was out, the Negro Players had made a successful debut, enjoyed a one-week run, and disbanded. Walton opined that the problem was that the lack of business managers in the Black community meant that the actors and musicians tried to do everything—including making decisions they were not qualified to make. Without saying so explicitly, Walton pointed to the impact of racial discrimination on the efforts of black performers to succeed. The simple fact remained that there was not enough money in African American theater to support the hiring of business managers.19 Thus, by the time Joplin’s interview appeared in the newspaper, Walton had been thinking a great deal about the future prospects of African American talent in the United States. After being in the thick of things in Harlem for five years, Walton had to have been discouraged by the outcomes even as he could see the talent all around him. The problem did not lie in meager ability; rather, obstacles structured by racism thwarted African American endeavors.
It was in this context that Walton launched what ended up being a decades-long campaign to standardize the capitalization of Negro in the American press. He sent a letter to the members of the Associated Press on March 21, 1913, asking that this group consider treating Negro not as a color but as a racial designation on a par with Indian, Japanese, or Italian and capitalizing it as a symbol of equality and respect. No term in current use, he argued captured the sense of peoplehood felt by African Americans—they were not the only “colored” people; they were not all “black;” those living in the United States were not “African.” Yet as a group they wanted a descriptor that represented an identity of which to be proud. “Why not refer to the term ‘Negro’ as a race of people and not with regard to the color of one’s skin?” he asked.20 The request was, not surprisingly, denied, but, undaunted, Walton began writing letters to the editor of the New York Times to expose the faulty logic of racism. He also initiated a behind-the-scenes effort to persuade influential editors, one at a time, to drop the use of insulting terms like “darkey” and quietly introduce the practice of capitalizing Negro. The New York World under the editorial leadership of Herbert Bayard Swope was one of the first to adopt the practice, but it would not be until sometime during World War II that it was considered standard practice among American newspapermen.21 In 1913, the recent inauguration of Woodrow Wilson as President of the United States lent a sense of urgency to Walton’s campaign. For now, in March 1913, the man who held the highest office in the land had begun the work of segregating the nation’s capital. Few presidents since Lincoln had done that much for the cause of racial equality, but Wilson’s actions threatened to erase even the small gains that had been made since the end of Reconstruction.22
So when Walton decided to publish an interview with Scott Joplin, he was thinking a great deal about the social diminishment of African-descended people in the United States. Perhaps Walton decided it was time to give Joplin his due as a serious composer, because in spite of the positive review in The American Musician Joplin still lacked the support needed to stage his opera. Walton had written in late October 1912 that since “the race question is only incidental to our white writers,” it fell to “writers of color” to speak up for the artists of the race.23 If he, Walton, did not give Joplin a platform for expressing his ideas about his compositions, who would?
Nevertheless, in spite of giving Joplin a chance to speak to the readers of the Age, Walton could do little to get his opera on the stage. Four years later—almost to the day—Joplin died in a ward for the mentally ill, never having succeeded in bringing Treemonisha to the world with proper sets, costumes, and musical accompaniment. Although his death made the front page of the New York Age, it was not long before Joplin faded from the memory of Americans—black and white. Indeed, he was unfortunately mis-remembered as the composer of dance-hall music by James Weldon Johnson and completely ignored by W. E. B. Du Bois in his Gift of the Black Folk, which catalogued the intellectual and artistic contributions to American life made by African Americans. His wife, Lottie Stokes Joplin, lobbied the African American entertainment community unsuccessfully for years to raise money to buy a headstone to mark his grave. But Joplin remained in obscurity for more than five decades after his death and even when his work resurfaced, it took time for his musical genius to be fully appreciated. It is to the high cost of this forgetting that I would like now to turn.
III. The High Price of Forgetting
Now that Scott Joplin has been remembered as the King of Ragtime and many of his compositions are immediately recognizable, it is easy to trick ourselves into believing that Americans always recognized his genius. It reminds me of what Nikhil Pal Singh wrote of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his magisterial work, Black Is a Country: “The triumph of the civil rights movement under King’s leadership is now said to reveal certain truths about the nation and how its values of tolerance and inclusive boundaries have been reconstituted in our own time. . . . As a new founding father, the mythic King allowed Americans not only to celebrate their progress into a more inclusive and tolerant people, but also to tell themselves that this is who they always were.”24 The trick is to suppress the most radical aspects of King’s vision and to ignore the violence of his contemporaries’ response to even his most modest demands for equal treatment and respect. One of the musicians responsible for the Joplin revival in the 1970s, T. J. Anderson reported with refreshing honesty in 1973 that he had not always taken the author of Treemonisha seriously. He writes: “My attitude toward Joplin is not the same as it was thirty years ago. We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg. Yet most people knew nothing about Joplin when he was alive—other than as a composer of rags.”25
So, in point of fact, Americans have not always recognized Joplin’s musical gifts, and as a society we have paid a high price for that failure. If it were only Joplin who had slipped through the cracks of our collective memory—tragic though that would be—the loss would not have been so keenly felt. But you probably noticed that in the space of this short lecture, I have mentioned several individuals whose talents were not used to the fullest. Will Marion Cook languished in third-rate venues in spite of his first-rate training and ability. Lester A. Walton carved out a socially responsible form of drama criticism that was ignored by the mainstream of drama critics. His great campaign to get U.S. newspapers to capitalize the word “Negro” eventually succeeded but the accomplishment was attributed incorrectly to “Lester Watson.”26 Joplin, Cook, and Walton represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg of African-descended Americans whose talents their countrymen squandered because of racial discrimination in the form of personal bigotry and institutional racism.
Today, leaders at most American universities and corporations wring their hands over the matter of diversity and inclusion. Their goal is to create an environment in which everyone is welcome and respected, and they periodically have to shake their heads in disbelief when this ideal is shattered—once again—by overt signs of disrespect and exclusion. I doubt that there is a single institution in the United States that has succeeded in reaching this goal. At my home institution, Purdue University, the campus community is frequently rocked by incidents such as the defacement of a memorial portrait of an African American professor in the Business school just last year. “How can incidents like these still happen?” they ask. “Haven’t we gotten past such racist displays?”
I’d like to suggest that our nation’s on-going struggle with race is another part of the high price we pay for our history of forgetting or only partially remembering the extraordinary men and women whose desire to be “co-workers in the kingdom of culture,” as W. E. B. Du Bois so eloquently put it, was spurned by the mainstream majority. The reason it is important to review Scott Joplin’s interview a century later is to listen—carefully—to what he had to say and to think—carefully—about what we obviously missed in the first instance. Indeed, instead of thinking of Joplin as being just like his contemporaries, I propose that we recognize that he was attempting to write music that exceeded the conventions for serious composition.
At the heart of Joplin’s message is his laying claim to the status of a serious composer. His point of reference was Ludwig van Beethoven, not Louis Hirsch or Irving Berlin. His contemporaries found it hard to register Joplin’s music as “serious,” because he wasn’t using meter, melody, and rhythm the way white serious composers used them. Nor did he experiment with musical conventions in the way such serious renegades as Arnold Schoenberg did with atonality and dissonance. In other words the canon and the standards of value did not accommodate the avant garde conceptions of opera and ballet offered by Joplin.
The same might well be said of other African American or non-white artists, intellectuals, poets, performers, writers, and educators. For example, at the moment that George Jean Nathan and Lester Walton set out to establish particular traditions of drama criticism, no such standards yet existed. It quickly became clear that Nathan’s approach—wicked, witty, and world-weary—would emerge as the standard by which all criticism should be judged. As a recent biographer put it: “Nathan was more than a recorder of Broadway’s brilliance; he was himself one of its baubles. Nathan came to personify the Broadway critic: elegantly dressed, escorting a fetching ingénue toward two on the aisle, row E seats; midnight suppers at the Stork Club; playwrights and directors breathlessly watching his every sneer or smile; gossip columnists eagerly relating his latest bon mots and evening escapades. Nathan flourished during Broadway’s most glamorous era.”27 I probably needn’t mention that no matter whether Walton had wanted to emulate Nathan, he never could have purchased “two on the aisle, Row E seats” nor could he have gained admission to the Stork Club. But even that raw racial discrimination is not the point; the point is that there was but one way of measuring excellence in the field of drama criticism, and it was a standard of measurement established by a white Broadway insider and maintained for decades by those who strove to perform their work in exactly that way.
The problem with most institutional efforts to foster diversity and inclusion is that they leave untouched the standard for measuring excellence. At the same time as institutions roll out new plans and policies to instill diversity, they continue to measure individuals against a standard of achievement established decades earlier by people who frankly didn’t care a whit about inclusiveness. In graduate programs, for example, the Graduate Record exam continues to be used as a standard way of measuring student potential. Its use is defended as the only way to judge merit from students coming from widely divergent undergraduate program. Scholarship over the past twenty years, however, has shown that the GRE is more accurate at predicting success at taking standardized tests than on succeeding in graduate education. Yet, it continues to be used to the benefit of students privileged by class and/or race. Likewise standards for promotion in law, business, and higher education were established by past professionals who were part of homogenous professional fraternities. But even raising a question about what it means to be a diverse institution raises hackles and prompts harrumphs about “lowering standards.” As Michèle Lamont recently observed, “Diversity and excellence are often pitted against one another in American higher education. Those who oppose taking diversity into consideration in university admission or other forms of academic selection argue that some ‘get in’ because of their skin color or gender while others ‘get in’ because of their achievement and analytical skills.”28 Failing to maintain standards, defenders of the status quo often say, will mean losing our high standing among our competitors.
Joplin’s second assertion answers this point—he believed his work had been unfairly damned by association with vulgarity. Instead of taking his work of art on its own terms, the single-standard-for-excellence mentality of the 1910s made a series of associations—between Joplin’s race, racial stereotype, and Joplin’s music—that led to the conclusion that Joplin’s compositions were tasteless and vulgar. Twenty-first-century Americans may not be quite so blatant as that, but the tacit message embedded in the defense of “excellence” is that difference equates with inferiority. Of course, we then cringe when the coming generation sneers at those who think, perform, and create differently from the accepted norm, and we continue to wring our hands when lack of respect for difference leads to racist acts. But the brave new world of diverse, inclusive institutional life demands that we display the courage to expand the ways of recognizing outstanding achievement, both inside and outside of the mainstream.
In 1913, Joplin spoke and Walton gave him a platform to reach the readers of the New York Age. His words still resonate today. Joplin challenges those of us who hear him to consider with a fresh perspective what it means to be excellent; what it means to be co-workers in the kingdom of culture; and how we might compose a new legacy of respect for the future.

1 For information about the relationship between Scott Joplin and Lester Walton, see Susan Curtis, Colored Memories: A Biographer’s Quest for the Elusive Lester A. Walton (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008), 11-16; 130-31. For information about Scott Joplin’s early career, see Susan Curtis, Dancing to a Black Man’s Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994).

2 For more on the C.V.B.A. and on Joplin’s involvement in the organization, see “Motto of the C.V.B.A.,” New York Age, January 6, 1910, 6, col. 4; “Colored Vaudevillians Organize,” New York Age, June 10, 1909, 6, col. 1-3; “New C.V.B.A. Committees,” New York Age, June 6, 1912, 6, col. 3; and “C.V.B.A. Entertainment,” New York Age, August 17, 1911, 6, col. 1-2. Walton published the following preliminary history of the organization: “Club Elects Officers,” New York Age, May 26, 1910, 6, col. 1-2.

3 Lester A. Walton, “Detriment to Ragtime,” New York Age, April 3, 1913, 6, col. 1.

4 “Questions and Answers,” The Etude 18 (February 1900): 52; and J. A. Fuller Maitland, ed., Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (New York: Macmillan, 1908), Vol. 4, 16.

5 Carl Van Vechten, “The Great American Composer: His Grandfathers are the Present Writers of Our Popular Ragtime Songs,” Vanity Fair 8 (April 1917): 75, 140.

6 “Our Musical Condition,” The Negro Music Journal 1 (March 1903): 137-39. This piece and others in this journal reflected the desire to claim middle-class respectability along the lines believed to be articulated by white middle-class Americans. For a larger context for this impulse, see Kevin Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).

7 “Detriment to Ragtime.”

8 The review appeared in the June 24, 1911, issue of The American Musician, major excerpts of which can be found in James Haskin and Kathleen Benson, eds., Scott Joplin (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1978), 177-79.

9 One of the performers, Arthur Marshall, was a protégé of Joplin. His memories of the opera are recorded in Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis, They All Played Ragtime: The True Story of an American Music (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1950), 71, and in Vera Brodsky Lawrence, ed., Collected Works of Scott Joplin (New York: The New York Public Library, 1971), 1:xxvi-xxvii. The latter source includes a full discussion of Joplin’s first opera and its uncertain fate. For references to the preparations being made for staging the opera, see “Scott Joplin’s Opera,” Sedalia Weekly Conservator, August 22, 1903, 2, col. 3.

10 To see the sheet music score for The Ragtime Dance and to read a discussion of Stark’s initial objection to publishing it, see Lawrence, Collected Works of Scott Joplin, 1:xxii-xxiv, 293-301. See also “Our Trip to the World’s Fair City,” Sedalia Times, April 26, 1902, 1, col. 1.

11 “To Play Ragtime in Europe,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 28, 1901, 3, col. 2-3; and “The King of Rag-Time Composers Is Scott Joplin, A Colored St. Louisan, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 7, 1903, Sporting Section, 5, col. 1-3.

12 The copy of Maple Leaf Rag is Item 4 in the Joplin File, Starr Music Collection, Lilly Library, Bloomington, Indiana. The advertisement appears on page 6.

13 Christensen’s Ragtime Review 1 (January 1915): 23; and “Can You Imagine This?” Christensen’s Ragtime Review 1 (December 1914): 2.

14 Lester A. Walton, “Latest Negro Opera,” New York Age, May 25, 1911, 6, col. 3.

15 For a fuller discussion of Walton’s style as a critic, see Curtis, Colored Memories, 11-32.

16 Quoted material is from Lester A. Walton, “Lafayette Theatre to Have Colored Stock Co.,” New York Age, March 6, 1913, 6, col. 1. For earlier mention, see “Lafayette Theatre,” New York Age, February 27, 1913, 6, col. 2.

17 “Stock Co. at the Lafayette,” New York Age, March 13, 1913, 6, col. 2.

18 For a good biographical sketch of Cook, see Eileen Southern, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982), 76-77.

19 Lester A. Walton, “ ‘The Traitor’ Presented,” New York Age, March 20, 1913, 6, col. 1; “Negro Players Disband,” New York Age, March 27, 1913, 6, col. 2.

20 Walton to the Associated Press, March 21, 1913, Lester A. Walton Papers, Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture, New York, NY (hereinafter LAWPA), Box 7, File 1.

21 “‘World’ Discontinues Use of ‘Darkies,’” New York Age, June 29, 1918, 1, col. 5.

22 For a full discussion of Walton’s campaign to get the word Negro capitalized, see Curtis, Colored Memories, 84-90.

23 “The ‘Follies of 1912,’” New York Age, October 24, 1912, 6, col. 1.

24 Nikhil Pal Singh, Black Is A Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 4.

25 Anderson is quoted in Dominique-Rene de Lerma, Reflections on Afro-American Music (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1973), 74, 85.

26 See Walton to Charles Merz, January 12, 1945, LAWPA, Box 16, File 18, a letter in which Walton asks the editor of the New York Times to correct the error, a correction that was made about two decades later in Walton’s obituary.

27 Thomas F. Connolly, George Jean Nathan and the Making of Modern American Drama Criticism (Danvers, Mass.: Associated University Presses, Inc., 2000), 13.

28 Michèle Lamont, “Diversity and Excellence in Higher Education: Not Alternatives but Additives,” Huff Post, April 24, 2009. See also Lamont’s counterargument in How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Evaluation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).

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