Anthology of American Folk Music

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November 10, 2007


john schott

Hi - just to be clear, I believe it is only Berlin's SPECULATION that the subject of A Guest Of Honor was about Booker T. Washington's visit to the White House. IMHO, despite my very high regard for Berlin, I think that his hunch here is unlikely.
We simply don't know what the story of Guest of Honor was.

John Schott

The Celestial Monochord

John -- Sorry! In the book, Berlin is quite clear about the uncertainty about the subject of the opera, even if I failed to be. Berlin writes, "As for the libretto, the story of A Guest of Honor, we can only speculate. Here is my guess."

However, note that Berlin more recently wrote a short biographical sketch about Joplin, and there he is more confident:

Comments in newspapers reveal what the opera was about: black leader Booker T. Washington’s dinner at President Roosevelt’s White House in 1901. This was an event that polarized the nation, with African-Americans, naturally, taking pride in the event. It was for this reason that Joplin paid tribute to Roosevelt with his piano rag A Strenuous Life, and then tried to memorialize the event with his opera.
Maybe new evidence came to light after the publication of Berlin's book, and that evidence is reflected in the online sketch. I don't know. But readers should be aware that the issue might indeed be more complex than my original entry suggested.

Many thanks!

The Celestial Monochord


T. Fazzini

1903 accounts of the "A Guest of Honor"

Sedalia weekly conservator August 22, 1903;words=Scott+JOPLIN+SCOTT+Joplin?date1=1903&rows=20&searchType=basic&state=&date2=1903&proxtext=Scott+Joplin&y=11&x=9&dateFilterType=yearRange&index=0

The New York Clipper September 12, 1903

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