At the opening concert of this year’s Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, Mayor Stephen Galliher announced that the Missouri State Legislature had passed legislation to rename the section of Highway 50 through town as the Scott Joplin Memorial Highway. It will include the section from the east city limits west to Highway 65 or Limit.
With the designation announced, funds were raised to pay for the signs and installation, including two generous donations from long time festival supporter David Almquist and author Larry Karp. Karp donated the proceeds from the sale of his 2016 book Brun Campbell: The Original Ragtime Kid to help cover the cost of the signs and setting them in place. David Almquist has helped with the Sedalia festival for many years and his brother, Nevin was a former Festival board president. Local Sedalia state legislator Nathan Beard and Rep. Steve Cookson from Poplar Bluff were credited with sponsoring the project and winning approval in the state’s general assembly.
A special ceremony unveiling the signs was held at the Hayden Liberty Center Association for the Arts Saturday, November 5. Jeff and Anne Barnhart who perform regularly at the festival were in attendance and praised the community for the effort to gain the special designation. Terri Ballard, Director of the LCAA and festival promoter said the money was raised in a matter of hours after the announcement was made.
The community has a long history of celebrating Scott Joplin and the renowned “Maple Leaf Rag” he wrote while living in the town. Joplin signed the famous publishing contract with music dealer John Stark on August 10, 1899 at 114 E. 5th Street and “The Maple Leaf Rag” eventually became the most well-known classic rag of all time. A large bronze commemorative marker was dedicated at that address during the Festival last summer.
Joplin came to Sedalia after attending the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and used it as a base for touring and performing until 1901. He attended the local George R. Smith College as a music student while in Sedalia and learned to notate his compositions while there.
Sedalia Concerts and programs dating back to the 1940s featured Joplin’s music and beginning in 1974, the first Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival was held. It has been continuously presented every summer since 1983 when the Scott Joplin postage stamp First Day of Issue Ceremony was held at the site of the old Maple Leaf Club.
It is especially appropriate that the Memorial Highway Designation be made at this time as 2017 is the 100th anniversary of Joplin’s death. Sedalia proudly promotes the town as a place where America’s music began and the bright maple leaf green signs will now help bring an awareness of Joplin’s music to travelers every time they pass through town.
Another famous Sedalian, country singer Leroy Van Dyke (“The Auctioneer” and “Walk on By”) will be honored at a later date with a 50 Highway designation from Limit Boulevard to the west city limit.
Related: The Scott Joplin Postage Stamp, Before The Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival, Bob Darch: Saving Sedalia’s Ragtime Heritage, Scott Joplin’s Forgotten Parlor Songs, W.C. Handy, Sedalia, and Joplin Lore, Missouri Musical Heritage Trail Proposed, Appointment in Sedalia
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