150 years ago today, Scott Joplin, the African-American composer and pianist dubbed the “King of Ragtime,” was born in Texas to an ex-slave. One of his first and most popular pieces, “Maple Leaf Rag”, became ragtime’s first influential hit, and is still instantly recognized today. Especially after his father left the family, the Joplins struggled financially, but 11-year-old Scott was tutored in music for 5 years free of charge by German-Jewish music professor Julius Weiss after Weiss recognized the family’s extreme poverty and the boy’s unique talent. Before he died at age 48, Joplin wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, a ragtime ballet, and two operas (one of which, Treemonisha, was finally produced in full, to wide acclaim, in 1972).

His music was repopularized in the Oscar-winning film The Sting that featured several of Joplin’s compositions, most notably “The Entertainer” — HEAR that song below. In 1976, Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize. (1868)

MORE Good News on this Date:

  • British naturalist Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” explaining his theory of evolution (1859)
  • Donald Johanson and Tom Gray discovered an extraordinary skeleton, nicknamed “Lucy,” in Ethiopia’s Awash Valley–the 40% complete female Australopithecus afarensis that provided a huge treasure of scientific evidence (1974)
  • The United States and Soviet Union agreed to the INF treaty that eliminated the entire class of short- and medium-range nuclear missiles from both countries (1987)
  • The entire leadership of the hard-line Communist Party in Czechoslovakia resigned after more than a week of protests against its policies to make way for democratic changes (1989)
  • Pubs in England and Wales were granted the right to stay open 24 hours a day (2005)

Happy 76th Birthday to Billy Connolly, the Scottish comedian, musician, who was knighted at Buckingham Palace for his services to entertainment and charity.

Photo by Eva Rinaldi-CC

Born into poverty and abandoned by his mum at age 4, Connolly found great joy in making people laugh. As an actor, he starred in A Series of Unfortunate Events, Brave, Mrs Brown, The Boondock Saints, and The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013. (1942)

And on this day in 1966, The Beatles began recording sessions for their eighth studio album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” — probably the most important and influential rock and roll album ever recorded.

Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band-coverKnowing they would not have to perform the tracks live because they had just retired from ever touring again, they adopted an experimental approach to composition and recording. Producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick’s innovative recording of the album included the liberal application of sound shaping signal processing, the use tape loops, and a 40-piece orchestra.

Hitting record stores on June 1, 1967, Sgt. Pepper’s was an immediate success—#1 on UK album charts for 23 weeks, and in the US for 15 weeks. The LP won several Grammys, and Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the “Greatest Albums of All Time”.  WATCH a video about its creation…