Everyone’s heard the phrase “the truth is stranger than fiction,” but until you experience an instance of it yourself you kind of lack perspective on the whole thing.
I had my experience yesterday, and it started off completely innocuous and ballooned from there. I’ve been working steadily on my second short story for my editor over the past few days(don’t worry, Craig, it’ll be sitting in your inbox by Friday), and without revealing anything or spoiling the plot for anyone, I’m introducing another character that hasn’t appeared in any previous New Herculaneum stories yet. He’s a musician, and as I’m imbuing the series with retro-dieselpunk elements, I decided to specify music that was popular during the early 20th century.
Now, I know approximately fuck-all about jazz, blues, and ragtime music. However, I’ve got some good research skills, and I was conducting some research on ragtime yesterday. Naturally I started with “The Entertainer,” considering it’s instantly recognizable and representative of the ragtime genre (if you’ve seen The Sting, you’ve heard it). Well, that particular piece of music was written by Scott Joplin, a legendary ragtime composer that lived in the late 19th-early 20th century. Widely considered the father of ragtime, Joplin found early success in the late 1880s but then slowly faded into obscurity by the time of his death in 1917 from syphilis, but enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the 1970s, primarily driven by the success of The Sting, which not only featured “The Entertainer” but several other pieces written by him.
However, Joplin is more than just a footnote in this story. Turns out that the guy composed what many feel to be his masterpiece, an opera known as Treemonisha, in 1910. It was never fully staged, it wasn’t until the 1970s, more than half a century after his death, that the piano score to the opera was re-discovered and the opera finally performed in Atlanta in a joint production between the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Morehouse College.
Treemonisha proved to be incredibly popular. The opera had its Broadway debut in 1975, and the following year Joplin received the Pulitzer posthumously for his contributions to American music. In the cast of that Broadway production of Treemonisha was a dancer named Martial Roumain, a refugee from Haiti that had been adopted into a progressive Jewish family living in Manhattan. Martial went on to become a talented and well-respected choreographer in his own right, but more important is that he’s my wife’s adoptive uncle.
I’ve known Martial literally for years, and while I knew he’d performed on Broadway in his youth, I had no idea that one day I’d be researching ragtime music and end up so far down the rabbit hole to end up back at the beginning. I can’t wait to talk to him about this over the holidays next month!