The Ragtime Kid
In 1898, when Brun Campbell hears Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” the 15-year-old piano enthusiast has just one goal: to move to Sedalia, Missouri, and learn to play ragtime from Joplin himself. On his arrival, he stumbles over the body of a murdered woman, and rather than make himself the obvious suspect, he unwittingly pockets what he finds at the scene and leaves without reporting it. Brun is one lucky young man, for not only is he befriended upon his arrival, he is directed to a job at the local music store, and Joplin agrees to take him on as a pupil.
For what may appear to be a sleepy Midwest town, Sedalia at the turn of the century was a-bustle with activity. Town politicians and merchants are angling for the state fair; an unscrupulous music publisher aims to steal Joplin’s ragtime tunes to deny him the profit; and Brun’s first benefactor in town is arrested for murder. You can almost hear the pounding of the piano and feel the heat of each day and the tension of racism. Brun is an agreeably flawed protagonist, and Joplin is portrayed as enough of an enigma to arouse curiosity rather than dismissal. All the characters are real, but this is no dry biography – rather a reminder that the Midwest at the turn of the century wasn’t so genteel.