Joplin Scott’s The Entertainer is undoubtedly one of the most easily recognizable melodies in music. Its popularity can be considered part of popular culture that has lasted a century thanks to modern adaptations of the music. The piece created in the height of American rag time music, has a great history and is considered as an important cultural piece in African American art genre (French, 2007). Joplin himself is an icon of American music and proved himself devoted to his craft to develop ragtime music to a classical status.
The turn to the 20th century is among the most critical times in history. Globally, the United States is becoming a leader, spearheading the industrial movement of internationalization of commerce. Within the United States itself, there was significant economic growth and social development in terms of rights and suffrage movements. Though African Americans were still subject to a significant amount of legal and social discrimination, they were beginning to organize interest and lobby movements and cultivate their identity in American society (Schafer et al, 1977, pp. 47-52).
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One of the fields that they gained recognition was in music. Strongly based in church and community musical traditions, composers like Scott combined it with European classical and romantic music to broaden its appeal. Ragtime music, shortened from its original ragged time, is a good example of the musical combination of African American style and contemporary ones. The music also was a means of displaying musical dexterity, a talent that often enjoyed significant success on country wide circuits (Sporre, 2003).
Written in 1902, The Entertainer is a rag time two step both enjoyed as music and for dance. Like other rag time music, it is not a metered piece and can be more appropriately considered as timed by its syncopation. The effect is however is that beats are emphasized even more which encourages movement from the audience. The piece requires that listener become in tune with the syncopation and pattern their movements thusly which encourages the audience to catch the rhythm of the song (French, 2007).
The piece is written in the key of C but also has a section written in F. The primary chord pattern in A-B-A-C-D and repetitions become progressively higher in octave. Performers of the piece are given significant margin in its performance allowing for intricate melody detailing that will become popularized in jazz and rhythm and blues music.
For a time, the song was lost to posterity together with ragtime music genre until it regained popularity when it adapted by Marvin Hamlisch for the movie 1973 Academy-winning film The Sting. The track reached the top three on Billboard magazine and since then has become the anthem for the sport of snooker, theme of several television and entertainment productions and a staple of the musical repertoire of musicians (Schafer et al, 1977, pp. 95-101).
The Entertainer’s appeal lies both in its artistry and its value in culture. The technical aspect of the song reveals a great deal of creative genius and facility in combining musical styles to appeal to a contemporary public (Sporre, 2003). At the same time, it gives insight to the social and cultural development of African Americans in the United States (Schafer et al, 1977, pp. 12-14). Most of all, it highlights the role of music in communication and society across races and beliefs overcoming discrimination and bigotry.
As much as these perspectives remain important today, so does will the song. Its revival in the 1970’s reflects that good music is timeless. Like the people who first heard the tune a hundred years ago, The Entertainer challenges listeners to really listen to it, learning its melody beats and mood. It encourages listeners to experience music and to allow it to move them. For these reasons, The Entertainer fulfills its role not only as a musical piece but also as a cultural heritage that many generations will continue to love.
French, Christopher W. “Joplin Scott’s The Entertainer”. Rhythm on the Rock Productions. 2007. 31 May 2007. <http://rhythmontherock.com/video_the_entertainer.html>
Schafer, W.J., and Riedel, J. The Art of Ragtime: Form and Meaning of an Original Black American Art, Revised Edition. Louisiana State University Press, 1977
Sporre, Dennis J. Perceiving the Arts: An Introduction to the Humanities New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc, 2003
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