A Guest of Honor

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A Guest of Honor was the first opera created by Scott Joplin, the celebrated ragtime composer. The focus of the production was a 1901 White House dinner hosted by President Theodore Roosevelt for the civil rights leader and educator Booker T. Washington. The event was politically polarizing, with Roosevelt receiving an uncommon level of criticism from his political opponents for entertaining the African-American leader.[1]

Joplin is believed to have begun writing A Guest of Honor shortly after Washington’s visit to Roosevelt’s White House. A copyright application was filed in 1903 with the Library of Congress, but Joplin did not include a copy of the score with the application. It is theorized he intended to have the score published prior to the copyright submission, but this never happened.[2]

Joplin created an opera company of 30 people and produced A Guest of Honor for a national tour. It is not certain how many productions were actually staged, or even if this was an all-black show or a racially-mixed presentation (which would have been very unusual for 1903).

During the tour, either in Springfield, Illinois, or Pittsburg, Kansas, someone associated with the company stole the box office receipts. Joplin could not meet the company’s payroll or pay for the company’s lodgings at a theatrical boarding house. It is believed the score for A Guest of Honor was confiscated with Joplin’s belongings, due to non-payment of his bills.[3]

To date, no copy of the score to A Guest of Honor has ever surfaced, and it is considered lost.

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