Top of page

Article Treemonisha

Image: Treemonisha Title Page
Treemonisha: Opera in Three Acts, words and music by Scott Joplin (New York: Scott Joplin, c1911). Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

Scott Joplin composed three works for the stage. The first, The Ragtime Dance, depicted a typical African-American dance gathering; it was performed in 1899 at the Black 400 Club in Sedalia, Missouri. The second work, A Guest of Honor, about Booker T. Washington's dinner with Teddy Roosevelt at the White House, premiered in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1903. Joplin took the production on tour. A series of financial mishaps, however, ended the performances. The score is now thought to be lost.

Joplin's third stage work was the opera Treemonisha. The libretto, also written by the composer, tells the tale of the adopted daughter of former slaves Ned and Monisha. Because the baby was found under a tree, she is named Treemonisha.

Treemonisha deals with the conflicts in African-American culture at the end of the 19th century--the desire to move into mainstream American society countered by the strange pull of the old African ways and superstitions. Treemonisha is kidnapped by the so-called "conjure men," but is rescued and returned home, where she becomes a leader among her community. The theme of the work--the importance of an education for both men and women--is powerfully set against music that borrows all of the elements of European opera and merges them with the unique rhythms of ragtime. Indeed, one of the opera's main ensembles, "A Real Slow Drag," is a true apotheosis of the Joplin style.

Joplin was never able to raise the funds to produce Treemonisha, a factor that contributed to ill health at the end of his life. It was not staged until 1972, when it was presented under the auspices of Morehouse College in Atlanta, directed by Katherine Dunham and conducted by Robert Shaw. Although the work was produced shortly thereafter at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia, its true premiere for the opera-going public was at the Houston Grand Opera in 1975, when Carmen Balthrop sang the lead role. Despite Joplin's disappointment over Treemonisha, today it is fast becoming a popular work in the American opera repertory.

About this Item


  • Treemonisha


  • -  Ragtime music -- History and criticism
  • -  Popular Songs of the Day
  • -  Songs and Music
  • -  Progressive Era to New Era (1900-1929)
  • -  Articles

Additional Metadata Formats

Rights & Access

The Library of Congress is providing access to these materials for educational and research purposes and makes no warranty with regard to their use for other purposes. The written permission of the copyright owners and/or other rights holders (such as holders of publicity and/or privacy rights) is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. There may be content that is protected as "works for hire" (copyright may be held by the party that commissioned the original work) and/or under the copyright or neighboring-rights laws of other nations.

Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an item and securing any necessary permission ultimately rests with persons desiring to use the item. Users should consult the bibliographic information that accompanies each item for specific information. This catalog data provides the details known to the Library of Congress regarding the corresponding items and may assist users in making independent assessments of the legal status of these items as related to their desired uses.

Items included here with the permission of the rights holders are indicated as such in the bibliographic record for each item.

In some cases, the Library was unable to identify a possible rights holder and has elected to place some of those items online as an exercise of fair use for strictly non-commercial educational uses. The Library of Congress would like to learn more about these materials and would like to hear from individuals or institutions that have any additional information or know of their history. Please contact:  Performing Arts Reading Room.

Suggested credit line: Library of Congress, Music Division.

Cite This Item

Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

Treemonisha. Web..

APA citation style:

Treemonisha. [Web.] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

MLA citation style:

Treemonisha. Web.. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.