(Mis)Remembering the 1974 Joplin Fest

As I blow the dust off of the fifty-year-old files of Joplin Ragtime Festival documents, it isn’t just the dust causing my eyes to tear. Holding those old pieces of paper and going through them one by one, brings back so many memories of a very magical time for me and a realization of how time ravages memory as well.

It is such a privilege for me to have had a small part in what has become known as the Ragtime Revival. My personal inspiration came from Joshua Rifkin, William Bolcom, William Albright, Rudi Blesh, Richard Zimmerman, Bob Darch, Wally Rose, Dick Hyman, Eubie Blake, Gunther Schuller’s New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble, and Max Morath as I look back at my early record purchases.

Hot Jazz Jubile

And then, in 1974 and 1975, I looked up and most of them were performing right in front of me at the first Scott Joplin Ragtime Festivals in Sedalia.

Memorabilia from 1974 and 1975 (photo montage by Larry Melton)

For some time now I have been regaling anyone who would listen with my stories of the Festival at the height of that Ragtime Revival. As I am prone to do, I have been aware that my accounts have become a bit embellished in their repetitions but, nothing I fear that has severely altered the course of history.

However, I have been startled by the way my mind has blended events and people and their names have become misidentified. It is the dates that have been the most seriously discombobulated. When I was teaching, I could rattle off dates ad infinitum to the terror of my students. Now my memory’s time awareness seems only fair, as I tend to miss some dates.


One of my favorite activities is to peruse the file of “celebrity” correspondence from those days. It makes for an incredible ragtime autograph collection, but it is also quite a lesson in Ragtime Revival history as well. Some friends like Peter Lundberg were prolific writers and in the days before email and word processor, that meant using international mail services. To this day Peter shares the wisdom of his years of ragtime performance, appreciation, and his well-formed opinions about music.

Other letters were filled with practical suggestions for taking on an event and what I could expect because it wasn’t going to be in just any place. Sedalia was an important name in the Ragtime community and in America’s popular culture.

Many of the writers introduced themselves though I knew most of the names just from following their music. LP liner notes in the revival era contained a wealth of information and many of the best notes should be collected into an anthology of ragtime revival era writing. As an aside, I would probably find CD liner notes even more informative if I could read the small print.

The archive has a few valuable photographs of the first Joplin Festival. However, the most interesting are the series of black and white contact sheets someone donated to the collection while it was at the community college. It is a comprehensive collection of images from all four days of the festivities and the resolution is so good that some can be enlarged. These photographs were obviously taken by a professional. They capture so many moments from that event.

I am a morning auction surfer and have several categories I watch regularly. The first Joplin Festival is one of them. It fascinates me that objects we produced 50 years ago now show up on auction sites and some bring sizable amounts. I sure wish we could have sold the T-shirts with the festival logo for $250 back then. We could have really used the revenue. I ordered 50 of each in the event’s colors, green, red and yellow. They sold out quickly as did the bumper stickers.


I didn’t really want to order festival ashtrays. I didn’t think they would sell, and they didn’t, then. Now I understand they are very collectible, as are match books, Who knew fifty years ago?

By the way, before I shake off the dust from this reminiscence, I see that Shelly Rounds, the new Joplin Festival Administrator, is asking for your memories of the 1974 Festival. Send your, “Favorite themes or events, photos, memorable moments, what the festival means to you, how many years you’ve attended…we want to know! Please email us at [email protected] and be sure to include your name and contact information within your email.”

And it is also time to make your nominations for the Festival’s “Outstanding Achievement Award in Ragtime. The award is presented to the person(s) or organization that has made exceptional contributions to performance, research, support, education, or advancement of the ragtime genre. Nominee submissions should include letters of recommendation, a list of accomplishments, and contact information for the nominee. We will also need the contact information for the person submitting the nomination. Submissions should be sent to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Foundation by email to [email protected]. The deadline for submissions is March 15. Previous nominations will not be carried forward.”


While my presence at the Joplin Festival this summer is a bit iffy (80 years have taken their toll), I hope many of you are planning to be in Sedalia May 29-31 and June 1st. If there’s a way, I’ll see you there.

Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at [email protected].

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