Eubie Blake

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Eubie Blake
Background information
Birth nameJames Hubert Blake
Born(1887-02-07)February 7, 1887
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
DiedFebruary 12, 1983(1983-02-12) (aged 96)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Genres Jazz, popular, ragtime
Occupation(s)Composer, musician
Labels Emerson, Victor
Associated acts Noble Sissle

James Hubert "Eubie" Blake (18871983), was an American composer, lyricist, and pianist of ragtime, jazz, and popular music. In 1921, he and his long-time collaborator Noble Sissle wrote Shuffle Along , one of the first Broadway musicals to be written and directed by African Americans. [1] Blake's compositions included such hits as "Bandana Days", "Charleston Rag", "Love Will Find a Way", "Memories of You" and "I'm Just Wild About Harry". The musical Eubie! , which opened on Broadway in 1978, featured his works.

Ragtime – also spelled rag-time or rag time – is a musical style that enjoyed its peak popularity between 1895 and 1919. Its cardinal trait is its syncopated or "ragged" rhythm.

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as "America's classical music". Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as "one of America's original art forms".

Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no musical training. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional or "folk" music. Art music was historically disseminated through the performances of written music, although since the beginning of the recording industry, it is also disseminated through recordings. Traditional music forms such as early blues songs or hymns were passed along orally, or to smaller, local audiences.


Early years

Blake was born February 7, 1887, at 319 Forrest Street, in Baltimore, Maryland. Of the eight children of former slaves Emily "Emma" Johnstone (18611927) and John Sumner Blake (18381917), he was the only one to survive infancy.[ citation needed ] John Blake was a stevedore on the Baltimore Docks earning nine dollars per week. [2]

Baltimore Largest city in Maryland, United States

Baltimore is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Maryland, as well as the 30th most populous city in the United States, with a population of 602,495 in 2018 and also the largest such independent city in the country. Baltimore was established by the Constitution of Maryland as an independent city in 1729. As of 2017, the population of the Baltimore metropolitan area was estimated to be just under 2.802 million, making it the 21st largest metropolitan area in the country. Baltimore is located about 40 miles (64 km) northeast of Washington, D.C., making it a principal city in the Washington-Baltimore combined statistical area (CSA), the fourth-largest CSA in the nation, with a calculated 2018 population of 9,797,063.

Slavery in the United States Form of slave labor which existed as a legal institution from the early years of the United States

Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human chattel enslavement, primarily of Africans and African Americans, that existed in the United States of America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Slavery had been practiced in British America from early colonial days, and was legal in all Thirteen Colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It lasted in about half the states until 1865, when it was prohibited nationally by the Thirteenth Amendment. As an economic system, slavery was largely replaced by sharecropping and convict leasing.

Blake claimed in the latter part of his life to have been born in 1883, but records published beginning in 2003 the U.S. Census, military and Social Security records, and Blake's passport application and passport uniformly give his birth year as 1887. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

In the United States, Social Security is the commonly used term for the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program and is administered by the Social Security Administration. The original Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, and the current version of the Act, as amended, encompasses several social welfare and social insurance programs.


Cover of sheet music of "I'm Just Wild About Harry", from the musical Shuffle Along, by Blake and Noble Sissle, 1921 I'm Just Wild About Harry 1b.jpg
Cover of sheet music of "I'm Just Wild About Harry", from the musical Shuffle Along , by Blake and Noble Sissle, 1921

Blake's musical training began when he was four or five years old. While out shopping with his mother, he wandered into a music store, climbed on the bench of an organ, and started "foolin’ around". When his mother found him, the store manager said to her, "The child is a genius! It would be criminal to deprive him of the chance to make use of such a sublime, God-given talent." The Blakes purchased a pump organ for US$75.00, making payments of 25 cents a week. When Blake was seven, he received music lessons from a neighbor, Margaret Marshall, an organist for the Methodist church. [8] At age 15, without his parents' knowledge, he began playing piano at Aggie Shelton's Baltimore bordello. Blake got his first big break in the music business in 1907, when the world champion boxer Joe Gans hired him to play the piano at Gans's Goldfield Hotel, the first "black and tan club" in Baltimore. [9] Blake played at the Goldfield during the winters from 1907-1914, spending his summers playing clubs in Atlantic City. During this period, he also studied composition in Baltimore with Llewellyn Wilson. [10]

The music of Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland, can be documented as far back as 1784, and the city has become a regional center for Western classical music and jazz. Early Baltimore was home to popular opera and musical theatre, and an important part of the music of Maryland, while the city also hosted several major music publishing firms until well into the 19th century, when Baltimore also saw the rise of native musical instrument manufacturing, specifically pianos and woodwind instruments. African American music existed in Baltimore during the colonial era, and the city was home to vibrant black musical life by the 1860s. Baltimore's African American heritage to the start of the 20th century included ragtime and gospel music. By the end of that century, Baltimore jazz had become a well-recognized scene among jazz fans, and produced a number of local performers to gain national reputations. The city was a major stop on the African American East Coast touring circuit, and it remains a popular regional draw for live performances. Baltimore has produced a wide range of modern rock, punk and metal bands and several indie labels catering to a variety of audiences.

Joe Gans American boxer

Joe Gans was an American professional boxer. Gans was rated the greatest Lightweight boxer of all-time by boxing historian and Ring Magazine founder, Nat Fleischer. Known as the "Old Master", he became the first African-American World Boxing Champion of the 20th century, reigning continuously as World Lightweight Champion from 1902-1908. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

William Llewellyn Wilson was a Baltimore-born African American conductor, musician and music educator. He was the first conductor of the first African American symphony in the city of Baltimore. A notable cellist, Wilson was also a music critic for the Afro-American, a major African American periodical in Baltimore in the early 20th century.

According to Blake, he also worked the medicine show circuit and was employed by a Quaker doctor. He played a Melodeon strapped to the back of the medicine wagon. Blake stayed with the show only two weeks, however, because the doctor's religion didn't allow the serving of Sunday dinner. [11]

Medicine show

Medicine shows were touring acts that peddled "miracle cure" patent medicines and other products between various entertainments. They developed from European mountebank shows and were common in the United States in the nineteenth century, especially in the Old West. They usually promoted "miracle elixirs", which, it was claimed, had the ability to cure disease, smooth wrinkles, remove stains, prolong life or cure any number of common ailments. Most shows had their own patent medicine. Entertainments often included a freak show, a flea circus, musical acts, magic tricks, jokes, or storytelling. Each show was run by a man posing as a doctor who drew the crowd with a monologue. The entertainers, such as acrobats, musclemen, magicians, dancers, ventriloquists, exotic performers, and trick shots, kept the audience engaged until the salesman sold his medicine.

Blake said he composed the melody of the "Charleston Rag" in 1899, when he would have been only 12 years old. It was not committed to paper, however, until 1915, when he learned to write musical notation.[ citation needed ]

In 1912, Blake began playing in vaudeville with James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra, which accompanied Vernon and Irene Castle's ballroom dance act. The band played ragtime music, which was still quite popular. Shortly after World War I, Blake joined forces with the performer Noble Sissle to form a vaudeville musical act, the Dixie Duo. After vaudeville, the pair began work on a musical revue, Shuffle Along , which incorporated songs they had written, and had a book written by F. E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles. When it premiered in June 1921, Shuffle Along became the first hit musical on Broadway written by and about African-Americans. The musical also introduced hit songs such as "I'm Just Wild About Harry" and "Love Will Find a Way." [12]

Blake made his first recordings in 1917, for the Pathe record label and for Ampico piano rolls. In the 1920s he recorded for the Victor and Emerson labels among others. [13]

In 1923, Blake made three films for Lee DeForest in DeForest's Phonofilm sound-on-film process: Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, featuring their song "Affectionate Dan"; Sissle and Blake Sing Snappy Songs, featuring "Sons of Old Black Joe" and "My Swanee Home"; and Eubie Blake Plays His Fantasy on Swanee River, featuring Blake performing his "Fantasy on Swanee River". These films are preserved in the Maurice Zouary film collection in the Library of Congress collection. He also appeared in Warner Brothers' 1932 short film Pie, Pie Blackbird with the Nicholas Brothers, Nina Mae McKinney, and Noble Sissle. [14] That same year he and his orchestra provided as well most of the music for the film Harlem Is Heaven . [15]

Later life

Blake receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan (1981) Eubie Blake Presidential Medal of Freedom.jpg
Blake receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan (1981)

In July 1910, Blake married Avis Elizabeth Cecelia Lee (1881–1938), proposing to her in a chauffeur-driven car he hired. Blake and Lee met around 1895, when both attended Primary School No. 2, at 200 East Street in Baltimore. In 1910, Blake brought his newlywed to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he had already found employment at the Boathouse nightclub.

In 1938, Avis was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She died later that year, at the age of 58. Of his loss, Blake said, "In my life I never knew what it was to be alone. At first when Avis got sick, I thought she just had a cold, but when time passed and she didn’t get better, I made her go to a doctor and we found out she had TB … I suppose I knew from when we found out she had the TB, I understood that it was just a matter of time." [8]

While serving as bandleader with the United Service Organizations (USO) during World War II, he met Marion Grant Tyler (1896-1982), the widow of the violinist Willy Tyler. Blake and Tyler married in 1945. She was a performer and a businesswoman and became his valued business manager until her death in 1982. In 1946, Blake retired from performing and enrolled in New York University, where he studied the Schillinger System of music composition, graduating in two and a half years. He spent the next two decades using the Schillinger System to transcribe songs that he had memorized but had never written down. [16]

In the 1970s and 1980s, public interest in Blake's music rekindled following the release of his 1969 retrospective album, The 86 Years of Eubie Blake. [16]

Blake was a frequent guest of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin . He was featured by leading conductors, such as Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Fiedler. In 1977 he played Will Williams in the Jeremy Kagan biographical film Scott Joplin . [17] [18] By 1975, he had been awarded honorary doctorates from Rutgers, the New England Conservatory, the University of Maryland, Morgan State University, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn College, and Dartmouth. On October 9, 1981, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Ronald Reagan.

Eubie! , a revue featuring the music of Blake, with lyrics by Noble Sissle, Andy Razaf, Johnny Brandon, F. E. Miller, and Jim Europe, opened on Broadway in 1978. The show was a hit at the Ambassador Theatre, where it ran for 439 performances. The production received three nominations for Tony Awards, including one for Blake's score. The show was filmed in 1981 with the original cast members, including Lesley Dockery, Gregory Hines and Maurice Hines. Blake performed with Gregory Hines on the television program Saturday Night Live on March 10, 1979.


Blake continued to play and record until his death, on February 12, 1983, in Brooklyn, five days after events celebrating his purported 100th birthday [19] (which was actually his 96th birthday).

He was interred in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. His headstone, engraved with the musical notation of "I'm Just Wild About Harry", was commissioned by the African Atlantic Genealogical Society (AAGS). The bronze sculpture of Blake's bespectacled face was created by David Byer-Tyre, curator and director of the African American Museum and Center for Education and Applied Arts, in Hempstead, New York. The original inscription indicated his correct year of birth, but individuals close to him insisted that Blake be indulged and paid to have the inscription changed.[ citation needed ]

Blake was reported to have said, on his birthday in 1979, "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself", [20] but it has been attributed to others including Adolph Zukor, Mae West and Mickey Mantle,[ citation needed ] and appeared in print at least as early as 1966. [21]

Honors and awards

See also


    Related Research Articles

    This is a list of notable events in music that took place in the year 1921.

    Noble Sissle African-American jazz musician

    Noble Lee Sissle was an African-American jazz composer, lyricist, bandleader, singer, and playwright, best known for the Broadway musical Shuffle Along (1921), and its hit song "I'm Just Wild About Harry".

    James Reese Europe American jazz musician and United States Army officer

    James Reese Europe, sometimes known as Jim Europe, was an American ragtime and early jazz bandleader, arranger, and composer. He was the leading figure on the Black American music scene of New York City in the 1910s. Eubie Blake called him the "Martin Luther King of music".

    <i>Shuffle Along</i> musical with music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake

    Shuffle Along is a musical with music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, and a thin revue-style connecting plot about a mayoral race, written by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles.

    African-American musical theater relates to the historic musical theater of the African American community, particularly prominent in New York City during the first half of the 20th Century.

    <i>Eubie!</i> 1978 musical

    Eubie! Is a revue featuring the music of jazz/swing composer Eubie Blake, with lyrics by Noble Sissle, Andy Razaf, Johnny Brandon, F. E. Miller, and Jim Europe. As with most revues, the show features no book, but instead showcases 23 of Eubie Blake’s best songs. The idea of the show was conceived by Julianne Boyd. It opened in 1978 receiving positive reviews from Time, Newsweek, Variety, Backstage, and The Today Show.

    Henry LeTang was an American theatre, film, and television choreographer and a dance instructor.

    <i>Babes in Arms</i> (film) 1939 film by Busby Berkeley

    Babes in Arms is the 1939 American film version of the 1937 Broadway musical of the same name. The film version stars Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, and features Charles Winninger, Guy Kibbee, June Preisser, Grace Hayes, and Betty Jaynes. The film concerns a group of youngsters trying to put on a show to prove their vaudevillian parents wrong and make it to Broadway. The original Broadway script was significantly revamped, restructured, and rewritten to accommodate Hollywood's needs.

    Flournoy Eakin Miller, sometimes credited as F. E. Miller, was an African American entertainer, actor, lyricist, producer and playwright. Between about 1905 and 1932 he formed a popular comic duo, Miller and Lyles, with Aubrey Lyles. Described as "an innovator who advanced black comedy and entertainment significantly," and as "one of the seminal figures in the development of African American musical theater on Broadway", he wrote many successful vaudeville and Broadway shows, including the influential Shuffle Along (1921), as well as working on several all-black movies between the 1930s and 1950s.

    Aubrey Lee Lyles, sometimes credited as A. L. Lyles, was an African American vaudeville performer, playwright, songwriter, and lyricist. He appeared with Flournoy E. Miller as Miller and Lyles, a popular comedy duo, from 1905 until shortly before his death.

    Im Just Wild About Harry 1921 song

    "I'm Just Wild About Harry" is a song written in 1921 with lyrics by Noble Sissle and music by Eubie Blake for the Broadway show Shuffle Along.

    Charles L. Cooke, known as Doc Cook, was an American jazz bandleader and arranger. Cook was a Doctor of Music, awarded by the Chicago Musical College in 1926.

    <i>A Dangerous Maid</i> musical

    A Dangerous Maid is a musical with a book by Charles W. Bell, music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. The script is based on Bell's 1918 play A Dislocated Honeymoon. The story concerns an ex-showgirl who elopes with a society boy, but his family tries to break up the marriage. The Gershwins wrote ten songs for the musical, eight of which were used in the production, which premiered in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on March 21, 1921. It toured through several cities and ended in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where it closed on April 16, 1921.

    Terry Waldo American musician

    Terry Waldo is an American pianist, composer, and historian of early jazz, blues, and stride music, and is best known for his contribution to ragtime and his role in reviving interest in this form, starting in the 1970s. Says Wynton Marsalis in his introduction to Waldo's book: "He teaches Ragtime, he talks about Ragtime, he plays it, he embodies it, he lives it, and he keeps Ragtime alive." The book, This is Ragtime, published in 1976, grew out of the series of the same title that Waldo produced for NPR in 1974. Waldo is also a theatrical music director, producer, vocalist, and teacher. He is noted for his wit and humor in performance, as "a monologist in the dry, Middle Western tradition." Eubie Blake describes his first impression of Waldo's performance thus: "I died laughing...that's one of the hardest things to do—make people laugh. Terry's ability to do this, combined with his musicianship, actually reminds me of Fats Waller."

    Max Morath is an American ragtime pianist, composer, actor, and author. He is best known for his piano playing and is referred to as "Mr. Ragtime". He has been a touring performer as well as being variously a composer, recording artist, actor, playwright, and radio and television presenter. Rudi Blesh billed Morath as a "one-man ragtime army".

    Brandon Victor Dixon Actor and producer

    Brandon Victor Dixon is an American actor, singer and theatrical producer. As an actor, he is known for Tony-nominated Broadway performances as Harpo in the 2005 musical The Color Purple and Eubie Blake in Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed (2016). He originated both roles, as well as the leading role of Berry Gordy Jr. in Motown: The Musical (2013) on Broadway, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album. In 2016, Dixon assumed the role of Aaron Burr in the Broadway company of Hamilton. Off-Broadway as well as in London's West End, Dixon played the role of Hayward Patterson in The Scottsboro Boys.

    Reginald DuValle (1893–1953) was an American jazz pianist, accordion player, and a bandleader from Indianapolis, Indiana, who taught jazz singer-songwriter Hoagy Carmichael improvisation on the piano.

    <i>Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed</i> musical

    Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed is a musical with a score by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle and a libretto by George C. Wolfe, based on the original book of the 1921 musical revue Shuffle Along, by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles. The story focuses on the challenges of mounting the original production of Shuffle Along and its effect on Broadway and race relations.

    Caroline “Lynnie” Godfrey is an American actress, singer, author, director and producer.


    1. Sullivan, John Jeremiah (March 24, 2016). "'Shuffle Along' and the Lost History of Black Performance in America". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved March 27, 2016.
    2. "The 93 Years Of Eubie Blake | AMERICAN HERITAGE". Retrieved 2019-02-24.
    3. Waldo, Terry (2009). This is ragtime. p. 233.
    4. Brooks, Tim (2004). Lost sounds: Blacks and the birth of the recording industry, 1890-1919. p. 564n1.
    5. Green, Jeffrey; Lotz, Rainer E.; Rye, Howard (2013). Black Europe. 2. p. 268.
    6. Prahlad, Anand (2006). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Folklore: A-F. Greenwood Press. p. 141. ISBN   978-0-313-33036-0.
    7. Peter Hanley. "Portraits from Jelly Roll's later travels. April 1923–1941".
    8. 1 2 Koenig, Karl. "The Life of Eubie Blake". Maryland Historical Society. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved February 17, 2007.
    9. Aycock, Colleen; Scott, Mark (2008). Joe Gans: A Biography of the First African American World Boxing Champion. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 228. ISBN   978-0786439942. OCLC   228498035.
    10. Blake, Eubie; Southern, Eileen (1973). "A Legend in His Own Lifetime". The Black Perspective in Music. 1 (1): 50–59. doi:10.2307/1214125. JSTOR   1214125.
    11. Curtis, Constance; Herndon, Cholie (April 30, 1949). "Know Your Boroughs – Orchestra Men Talk About Show Business". New York Amsterdam News. p. 15.
    12. Southern, Eileen (2002). "Eubie Blake". In Kernfeld, Barry. ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. London: MacMillan. p. 231.
    13. Brooks, Tim, Lost Sounds, p. 368-382.
    14. "Pie, Pie Blackbird (1932)", film catalog, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Broadcasting System, Time Warner, Inc., New York, N.Y. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
    15. "Harlem Is Heaven (1932)", TCM. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
    16. 1 2 Wilson, John S. (1983-02-13). "Eubie Blake, Ragtime Composer, Dies 5 Days After 100th Birthday". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2019-02-24.
    17. "Scott Joplin (TV Movie 1977)". Retrieved 1 June 2018.
    18. Goldsmith, Melissa U. D.; Willson, Paige A.; Fonseca, Anthony J. (7 October 2016). The Encyclopedia of Musicians and Bands on Film. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN   9781442269873 . Retrieved 12 February 2017 via Google Books.
    19. "Eubie Blake, Ragtime Composer, Dies 5 Days After 100th Birthday". The New York Times . Retrieved December 5, 2014. Mr. Blake's lawyer, Elliot Hoffman, said the composer died shortly after noon. Mr. Blake, who had suffered a bout of pneumonia, was too ill to attend Monday's birthday celebrations but he heard a concert in his honor at the Shubert Theater by way of a special telephone hookup.
    20. Haberman, Clyde; Krebs, Albin (February 5, 1979). ""Notes on People: Eubie Blake Is Almost Not at the Show on Time"". The New York Times . p. C12.
    21. Gold, Bill (November 24, 1966). ""The District Line......"". The Washington Post . p. G20.
    22. "Grammy Award original certificate". Archived from the original on October 1, 2006. Retrieved April 6, 2016.
    23. "Past Rutgers University Honorary Degree Recipients | Office of the Secretary of the University". Retrieved 2019-02-24.
    24. American Theatre Hall of Fame Inductees (1995),; accessed April 6, 2016
    25. 2006 National Recording Registry Choices,; accessed May 18, 2016.

    Further reading

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