John Stillwell Stark was the main publisher of Scott Joplin’s musical compositions. Born in Kentucky on April 11, 1841, Stark grew up in Indiana. He moved to Sedalia, Missouri, in 1882. There he opened a small music shop and within a few years was able to purchase a local music publishing firm. He renamed the company John Stark & Son.
Stark published Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag in 1899. This song was very popular and brought Stark a steady income that allowed him to advance his publishing business and move to St. Louis in 1901. Stark, guided by his musically talented daughter Eleanor, believed strongly that the classic ragtime of Scott Joplin was important and should be published and promoted. Stark also published the works of other ragtime composers who had worked with or knew Joplin. These composers include James Lamb, Arthur Marshall, Scott Hayden, James Scott, and others. Stark spent several years in New York City’s Tin Pan Alley, but eventually returned to St. Louis, where he died on October 21, 1927. He is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.
Text by Carlynn Trout with research assistance by Todd Barnett
References and Resources
For more information about John Stark’s life and career, see the following resources:
The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about John Stark in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets.
Articles from the Newspaper Collection
- “The Fair: What Was Done During the Second Day of the Sedalia Exposition.” Sedalia Weekly Bazoo. September 30, 1884. p. 5. [Reel # 46648]
- “Missouri was the Birthplace of Ragtime.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 18, 1961. p. 3F. [Reel # 43110]
- Obituary. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 21, 1927. p. 44. [Reel # 42300]
- “Piano Sale!” Advertisement. Sedalia Sentinel. December 20, 1899. p. 4. [Reel # 47701]
- “Pianos and Organs!” Advertisement. Sedalia Weekly Bazoo. December 13, 1892. p. 8. [Reel #46667]
- “Was a Banner Day.” Sedalia Evening Democrat. September 30, 1897. p. 2. [Reel # 47655]
- “We have the Largest and Finest Music House.” Advertisement. Rosa Pearle’s Paper. May 19, 1894. p. 8. [Reel # 47772]
Books and Articles
- Berlin, Edward A. King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. [REF F508.1 J747be]
- Blesh, Rudi, and Harriet Janis. They All Played Ragtime: The True Story of an American Music. New York: Oak Publications, 1971. [REF F565.3 B617 1971]
- Cotter, John Cleophus. The Negro in Music in Saint Louis. Master’s thesis. St. Louis: Washington University, 1959. pp. 296-302. [REF H235.71 C828]
- Curtis, Susan. Dancing to a Black Man’s Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1994. pp. 69-76, 88-93, 98, 102-109, 131-136, 143, 159, 161. [REF F508.1 J747cu]
- Jasen, David A., and Trebor Jay Tichenor. Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History. New York: The Seabury Press, 1978. [REF 781.572 J453]
- Schafer, William J. and Johannes Riedel. The Art of Ragtime: Form and Meaning of an Original Black American Art. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973. pp. xiii, 33, 94, 106, 131, 144-149, 166, 217. [REF 781.572 Sch14]
- Waldo, Terry. This is Ragtime. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1976. pp. 48, 52-58, 66, 72-77, 120-124, 171-177, 202. [REF 781.572 W147]
- Library of Congress: Performing Arts Encyclopedia
A short biography of John Stilwell Stark can be found in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia at the Library of Congress website.
- Oxford Music Online
This website features a short biography of John Stillwell Stark.
- “Perfessor” Bill Edwards
This website is full of information about ragtime music, musicians, and publishers. It contains a biography of John Stillwell Stark.