St. Michael’s has hosted a Scott Joplin Concert for the past 5 years. Joplin, the great American iconic songwriter of music featured in the movie “The Sting” and perhaps best known for the “The Entertainer” was buried at St. Michael’s on April 5th, 1917.
Dying indigent he was laid to rest in a community grave with two unrelated individuals. Joplin’s last wish was that his most renowned song, “Maple Leaf Rag” be played at his burial. His wife believing it would not be appropriate refused to fulfill this request.
Years later having heard the story of Joplin’s last request the Brooklyn Concert Club met at Joplin’s gravesite and honored him by playing ‘The Maple Leaf Rag.” They also dedicated a flat marker to commemorate Joplin.
One day I found the history of Joplin and his burial at St. Michael’s. To me it represented both a sad tale but also the means to commemorate a great artist while establishing that St. Michael’s refused to be a warehouse of the past. Cemeteries insure celebration of life’s, the love of families and the means to express gratitude for the benefits each of us receive from the dedication of others.
We have a blast at each Concert. Couples get up and dance no more than feet from memorial property. St. Michael’s sets up a BBQ handing out franks and burgers. Celeste Beatty of Harlem Brewery whose ancestor played with Joplin attends passing out Sugar Hill Golden Ale. Dr. Ed Berlin, the authoritative expert and author of several tomes on Joplin and ragtime present a power point presentation.
We have featured many great soloists, opera groups and bands. Last year Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks vowed the crowd. The demand to repeat Vince’s performance guaranteed his return. Vince’s credits include several movies including “The Aviator” and “The Cotton Club.”
St. Michael’s won the KIP Award in 2005 for Most Personalized Service or Memorial for the dedication and memorial service of the 911 Queens Firefighters of September 11th. It was an Award St. Michael’s is proud of. Not only did it commit us to honor the First Responders of the attack on the World Trade Center but it confirmed that we would always be an active participant in the life of the citizens of the City of New York.
Last year St. Michael’s entered the KIP based upon our Joplin Concert. The failure to win has inspired us to do more. As a consequence this year’s Concert now includes the support of several Funeral Directors, banks, community groups, children organizations and schools. Our net has been cast so widely that we are confronting an audience that may dwarf any prior event or service we have hosted. St. Michael’s intends to be competitive in this year’s KIP competition.
Regardless of winning or not, the reality is that our failure at winning has proven a wonderful motivator to reach deeper into our community resulting in serving more families. With or without an Award St. Michael’s has already won!