The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Matthew's sons subsequently moved to Terrell, near many of their holdings,
but the family's wealth was secure. They dabbled in railroads and the oil busi-
ness, but land remained the basis of their wealth. A frontier hunger for land had
paid off; the Cartwrights were rich.
Although the book is occasionally tedious due to the numerous names and
family connections, it is a treasure of early Texas history. Family members are
viewed as they lived in a world which is difficult for modern readers to compre-
hend. The book is valuable because it treats real people against a massive histori-
cal backdrop.
Stephen F. Austin State University BOBBY H. JOHNSON
Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin. By Susan Curtis. (Columbia:
University of Missouri Press, 1994. Pp. xx+265. Preface, acknowledgments,
notes, bibliography, index. ISBN o-8262o-949-1. $26.95.)
Although the work at hand purports to be a biography of Scott Joplin, it is an
odd example of that genre. As the author admits, there is woefully little hard
documentary evidence for a detailed biography of Joplin, the popularizer of
American ragtime and a major African American composer of the turn of the
century. In the absence of solid documentation, the author analyzes the persons
and circumstances most immediately surrounding her subject. She treats, for ex-
ample, the Reconstruction period in Texas and Arkansas to provide a backdrop
for the early years of Joplin's life (which began in rural northeast Texas in
1868); the history of Sedalia, Missouri, where the young musician first per-
formed and gained popularity; the businessman/music publisher John Stark
(who published "Maple Leaf Rag" and promoted Joplin's career); the Chicago
Columbian Exposition of 1893 (which Joplin probably attended); the Louisiana
Purchase Exposition in St. Louis (where Joplin performed, but in a subsidiary
and apparently demeaning venue); and the New York musical world in which
Joplin pursued his mature career. Such is the material constituting the first two-
thirds of the volume.
In the process, the reader learns very little, really, ofJoplin the man: of his re-
lationships with his two wives; of the creative wellsprings of his genius; or even of
the music (there are no technical discussions of ragtime as a form or ofJoplin's
orchestral and operatic compositions). Nonetheless, Dancing to a Black Man's
Tune is a good book. Its value derives from the originality of its approach-its
heavy contextualization of its subject-and from its analysis ofJoplin's career as
a paradigm for race relations in Gilded Age America. Curtis's conclusions are es-
pecially noteworthy: that Joplin created an important body of serious work based
in African American folk traditions; that the popular success of his ragtime com-
positions did mediate between the black and white cultures of the time; and that
in so doing ragtime represented an important break with the strictures of Victo-
rian stuffiness. Finally, and most importantly according to the author, Joplin's
career illustrates "the mutual dependence of American and African American
culture" (p. 189). It is thus all the sadder that despite his significance, Joplin's

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/. Accessed July 25, 2014.