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The Entertainer (rag)

The Entertainer
by Scott Joplin
The front cover of The Entertainer sheet music. It has a green background and in the centre is a red ink drawing of a stereotyped African-American performer on stage in top hat and tails
The first edition Cover of "The Entertainer"
Genre Ragtime
Form Rag time two step
Published 1902 (1902)
Publisher John Stark & Son
Duration 3:53
Instrument: Piano Solo
A live performance of The Entertainer

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"The Entertainer" is a 1902 classic piano rag written by Scott Joplin.

One of the classics of ragtime, it returned to international prominence as part of the ragtime revival in the 1970s, when it was used as the theme music for the 1973 Oscar-winning film The Sting. Composer and pianist Marvin Hamlisch's adaptation reached #3 on the Billboard pop chart and spent a week at #1 on the easy listening chart in 1974.[1] The Sting was set in the 1930s, a full generation after the end of ragtime's mainstream popularity, thus giving the inaccurate impression that ragtime music was popular at that time.

The Recording Industry Association of America ranked it #10 on its "Songs of the Century" list.


  • Music 1
  • Publication history 2
  • Popularity and legacy 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Sources 6
  • External links 7


"The Entertainer" is sub-titled "A Rag Time Two Step", which was a form of dance popular until about 1911, and a style which was common among rags written at the time.

Its structure is: Intro AA BB A CC Intro2 DD.[2]

It is primarily set in the key of C major; however, for the C section (commonly referred to as the 'Trio'), it modulates to the subdominant, F major, then through a transitional passage modulates back to C major for the D section. The "B" section contains an indication that the melody is to be played an octave higher on the repeat.

In the June 7, 1903 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, contemporary composer Monroe H. Rosenfeld described "The Entertainer" as "the best and most euphonious" of Joplin's compositions to that point. "It is a jingling work of a very original character, embracing various strains of a retentive character which set the foot in spontaneous action and leave an indelible imprint on the tympanum."[2]

Suggested by the rag's dedication to "James Brown and his Mandolin Club", author Rudi Blesh wrote that "some of the melodies recall the pluckings and the fast tremolos of the little steel-stringed plectrum instruments"[3]Interestingly, Stark issued an arrangement of the piece for two mandolins and a guitar.[2]

Publication history

The copyright on "The Entertainer" was registered December 29, 1902, along with two other Joplin rags, "A Breeze from Alabama" and "Elite Syncopations", all three of which were published by John Stark & Son of St. Louis, Missouri.[2] The centerpiece of the original cover art featured a minstrel show caricature of a black man in formal attire on a theater stage.

"The Entertainer" also appeared in orchestration as part of "The Red Back Book" of "Standard High Class Rags" popular with ragtime bands.

Popularity and legacy

In November 1970, Joshua Rifkin released a recording called Scott Joplin: Piano Rags[4] on the classical label Nonesuch, which featured as its second track "The Entertainer". It sold 100,000 copies in its first year and eventually became Nonesuch's first million-selling record.[5] The Billboard "Best-Selling Classical LPs" chart for September 28, 1974 has the record at #5, with the follow-up "Volume 2" at #4, and a combined set of both volumes at #3. Separately both volumes had been on the chart for 64 weeks.[6] The album was nominated in 1971 for two Grammy Award categories, Best Album Notes and Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without orchestra), but at the ceremony on March 14, 1972, Rifkin did not win in any category.[7] In 1979 Alan Rich in the New York Magazine wrote that by giving artists like Rifkin the opportunity to put Joplin's music on disk, Nonesuch Records "created, almost alone, the Scott Joplin revival."[8]

Marvin Hamlisch lightly adapted and orchestrated Joplin's music for the 1973 film The Sting, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and Adaptation on April 2, 1974.[9] His version of "The Entertainer" reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the American Top 40 music chart on May 18, 1974,[10][11] prompting the New York Times to write, "the whole nation has begun to take notice."[12] Thanks to the film and its score, Joplin's work became appreciated in both the popular and classical music worlds, becoming (in the words of music magazine Record World), the "classical phenomenon of the decade."[13] In the United States, "The Entertainer" is one of many songs commonly played by ice cream trucks, in order to attract attention.[14]

In the mid to late 1990s, Giovanni de Chiaro[15] transcribed and recorded many of Joplin's rags for guitar. There is a 4-CD collection of his recordings available.

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ a b c d Jasen, David A.; Trebor Jay Tichenor (1978). Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc. pp. 89–90.  
  3. ^ Rudi Blesh, pxxiv, "Scott Joplin: Black-American Classicist", Introduction to Scott Joplin Collected Piano Works, New York Public Library, 1981
  4. ^ Nonesuch Records CD (w/bonus tracks)"Scott Joplin Piano Rags". Retrieved 2009-03-19. 
  5. ^ "Nonesuch Records". Retrieved 2009-03-19. 
  6. ^ Billboard Magazine 1974a, p. 61.
  7. ^ LA Times.
  8. ^ Rich 1979.
  9. ^ "Entertainment Awards Database". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-03-14. 
  10. ^ "Charis Music Group, compilation of cue sheets from the American Top 40 radio Show" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-09-05. 
  11. ^ Billboard Magazine 1974b, p. 64.
  12. ^ Kronenberger, John (1974-08-11). "New York Times". The Ragtime Revival-A Belated Ode to Composer Scott Joplin. 
  13. ^ Record World Magazine July 1974, quoted in: Berlin, Edward A. (1996). King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era, p. 251.
  14. ^ Neely, Daniel Tannehill (Spring 2005). "Soft Serve: Charting the aural promise of ice cream truck music" (PDF). Esopus 4 (New York City, New York): 28. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-02-05. 
  15. ^


  • LA Times. "Entertainment Awards Database". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  • Billboard magazine (1974a). "Best Selling Classical LPs". Billboard magazine (Nielsen Business Media, Inc.) (September 28, 1974): 61. Retrieved July 29, 2011. 
  • Rich, Alan (1979). "Music". New York Magazine (New York Media LLC) (December 24, 1979): 81. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 
  • Billboard Magazine (1974b). "Hot 100". Billboard Magazine (Nielsen Business Media, Inc.) (May 18, 1974): 64. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 

External links

  • Musical score and MIDI file at the Mutopia Project
  • Sheet music and mp3 at (interactive version requires Sibelius Scorch)
  • Free MP3 Download and video
  • Free typeset sheet music from
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