Three local entities are working together to create a historic ragtime collaborative commemorating composer Scott Joplin and the evolution of American music stemming from the ragtime genre born in Sedalia.
The Sedalia Heritage Foundation, the Liberty Center Association for the Arts, Inc. and Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival Foundation recently met to work on many pronged project that will feature two Scott Joplin exhibits, a video documentary and a footsteps tour.
Larry Melton, of Union, coordinator of the Ragtime Achieve Project and once the director of the 1977-75 Scott Joplin Festivals, has spent over 1,000 hours, since spring, scanning, sorting and professionally achieving ragtime documents and music.
Sedalia Heritage Foundation Executive Director Debbie Biermann said the archives once housed at State Fair Community College and owned by Melton was the “jump-start” for the collaboration.
“The Heritage Foundation established an arbitrary 2 year time frame to catalog and preserve the collection,” she added. “We knew what was there, but not until we really got into it did we realize what all was there.”
Biermann and LCAA Executive Director and Scott Joplin Foundation interim Director Terri Ballard both agreed that Melton was the one who made everything possible during an interview with the Democrat on Tuesday.
“It was his initiative and his leadership,” Biermann said. “It was because of him that the ragtime festival first began.”
Although he only directed the festival for two years he has remained involved.
“It became a passion for him,” Biermann added. “He got to know the performers in the mid-70s, and he has a wealth of knowledge on anything ragtime. So, it was his collection that that was the end result of his 2 years that went to the college.
“Because it was his collection, he has stayed in touch with where it was and what it was doing,” she added. “He really has become the project curator and project coordinator.”
Melton is also digitizing ragtime music CDs and cassettes in the collection in order to preserve them.
“Some of those were recorded during the festivals, so it becomes an important part of history,” Biermann noted.
She added that the Heritage Foundation objectives were to catalog, preserve, identify what ragtime items they had, and then figure out what to do with the material.
“With the mission of finding another year-around location that would serve as a year-around visitor destination,” she said.
She cited the recent renovations of LCAA and added that it made perfect sense to collaborate with Ballard on exhibit space.
“We began to explore those opportunities,” Biermann said. “Of course you can’t have a collaboration of that kind if you don’t have the festival board as a piece of that.
“With the three together, we are going to accomplish something that one entity alone could not,” she added.
The Ragtime Foundation broad will remain focused on producing the yearly international festival, while LCAA will concentrate on the Sedalia cultural arts campaign.
“As they renovate Liberty Center they’re wanting it to be recognized as a historic site and as a cultural arts destination,” Biermann said.
Once LCAA opens, it will host a ragtime exhibit in 2016 focusing on “Sedalia, Missouri Where America’s Music Began.” They will also offer a footsteps tour of places where Scott Joplin went while living and composing music in Sedalia.
A concept the three groups hope to emphasize is the importance of ragtime being haled as the first American music from which, jazz, blues, gospel and even rock stems; noting that it began in Sedalia. The exhibit at LCAA will represent this theme.
“There is a theory that is growing … a lot of historians believe that ragtime was the first American music,” Biermann said. “There is that point in time when Scott Joplin signed that contact with John Stark on Fifth Street that seems to benchmark ragtime beginning here.”
LCAA plans to have cases installed that will hold ragtime artifacts in the lounge area of the building, plus they have information on a piano once played by Joplin they hope to incorporate into the exhibit. The exhibit will be dedicated close to the time of the 2016 Scott Joplin Festival slated to run from June 1 to 4.
Ballard said she thinks the collaboration is an excellent idea.
“I think just bringing the three together, there’s strength in numbers,” Ballard said. “Between the Heritage Foundation’s ability to tell a story, the Ragtime Foundation sort of holding the legacy and the Liberty Center becoming the place to celebrate the arts it’s a a collaboration that works well for this project.”
Ballard added that the concept is showing the bigger picture, illustrating that ragtime was the first commercial American music to sell 1 million copies.
“Ragtime was played other places before, but the pivotal point in ragtime history was is when that contact was signed, and it was signed here,” Biermann said.
Biermann added that a companion exhibit will be hosted at the Katy Depot running from April 2016-17. The theme is “Sedalia in the Ragtime Era.”
“It will give the people an idea of what Sedalia was like when Joplin was here,” she said. “What brought him here, what the community was like.
“It was a very progressive point in Sedalia’s history,” she added. “It will feature that part of the story.”
Another point in the collaboration is a ragtime documentary project already in the works; it is funded by the Sedalia Tourism Commission.
“The video is a Heritage Foundation piece, but it is part of the collaboration,” Biermann said. “The majority of it will be filmed during the (2016) festival. They are working on getting specific entertainers, some of the patriarchs … they have such important stories to record.”
Biermann added that another “piece” of the collaboration is a strategic market plan for the achieves project and also for the festival.
“It’s been a number of years since the festival has had their strategic plan updated and a lot of things have changed,” she said. “We are going through a duplicate process for those two entities to strengthen the tools that help in their organization and management.”
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 [email protected]