Blake, Eubie , popular name of (James Hubert) Blake
(1883–1983)

Composer and pianist, born in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. He studied piano as a child and sang outside saloons in a vocal quartet at age 12. While a teenager he began playing piano at bordellos, raveling in minstrel shows, and playing in fine hotels in Baltimore and Atlantic City. He published his first song in 1914; in 1915 he met Noble Sissle, who soon became his lyricist; in 1916 they began their long collaboration, producing many classic ragtime hits and performing as the "The Dixie Duo." They also wrote their first Broadway show, the famous all-black musical, Shuffle Along (1921) (including "I'm Just Wild About Harry").

Eubie recalls their first collaboration. "Miss Sophie Tucker was playing at the Maryland Theatre in Baltimore. We had learned from Shelton Brooks, who had written "Some of These Days" for her, that she wanted to give a helping hand to Negro songwriters. So, Sissle and I, with the help of Eddie Nelson, wrote It's All Your Fault, our first song. The ink was still running off the paper when we hurried down to audition the song for her. She liked it, put it in her show and us on the map. The song was published and was popular in Baltimore for a while. We'll never forget her."

All Your Fault

Shuffle Along Medley

You Were Meant For Me

Blues, Why Don't You Let Me Alone

As Long As You Live

Bleeding Moon/Under the Bamboo Tree

Blue Rag in 12 Keys

Charleston

Dixie Moon

If I Could Be With You

Just Wild About Harry

Memories of You

Old Fashioned Love

Spanish Venus

 

It was James Reese Europe, the noted orchestra leader, who brought Sissle and Blake together with the successful vaudeville team of Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles. Europe believed that with Sissle and Blake writing the songs and Miller and Lyles furnishing the book, the quartet could produce a musical comedy which would restore authentic Negro artistry to Broadway, from which it had been largely absent for over a decade. The result was "Shuffle Along," which opened in New York on May 23, 1921, and promptly made theatrical history.

For Eubie, the show was the culmination of a boyhood dream which began when he first learned of the excitement of the theatre while running errands for Sissieretta Jones, the famed Black Patti. Later, when he saw Leslie Stuart's "Florodora," he came under the spell of the flowing melodies of European operetta and became a passionate enthusiast of the music of Oscar Straus, Franz Lehár and Victor Herbert.

His idols in the theatre were Bert Williams and George Walker, whose shows "in Dahomey" (1903), "Abyssinia" (1906) and "Bandanna Land" (1908) were highly acclaimed. And there were Bob Cole and the Johnson brothers, James Weldon and J. Rosamond, who wrote the melodious operettas "The Shoo?fly Regiment" (1907) and "The Red Moon" (1909). Eubie's arrangement and performance of a Cole and Johnson medley, comprising Bleeding Moon from "The Red Moon" and the well?remembered Under the Bamboo Tree, which Marie Cahill introduced in "Sally in Our Alley" in 1902, is an affectionate tribute to these early pioneers of the Negro musical.

 

Today, "Shuffle Along" is remembered as the show which brought jazz dancing to Broadway, stardom to Florence Mills and Josephine Baker, and paved the way for creative efforts of James P. Johnson, Luckey Roberts, Andy Razaf, Fats Waller and others. Its chief glory was its ebullient, tuneful score which is happily recalled on these records by its creators, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, in the "Shuffle Along" Medley which includes: Bandanna Days, I'm Just Simply Full of Jazz, In Honeysuckle Time, Gypsy Blues, If You've Never Been Vamped by a Brownskin, Love Will Find a Way and I'm Just Wild About Harry. "Harry," of course, won added fame when it became Harry Truman's campaign song in the 1948 Presidential election, but few realize it was written originally as a waltz. At John Hammond's request, Eubie recorded the original waltz version as well as the more familiar arrangement.

After running for over a year in New York, "Shuffle Along" embarked on a precedent-shattering national road tour which witnessed a Negro show breaking the color barrier at previously all-White theatres throughout the country. At one time, there were three road companies playing simultaneously, including one in the deep South. The orchestra leader and pianist for the Southern company was Charles Luckeyeth Roberts. "Charlie was like a son to me," says Eubie. "I knew him when he was a boy in short pants. He was one of the greatest pianists I have ever heard and he wrote some beautiful rags and songs. I have recorded his Spanish Venus, which I first heard him play around 1910."

The adulation for "Shuffle Along" encouraged producers to bring other Negro musicals to Broadway. In a procession of shows which included: "Liza" (1922), "Dixie to Broadway" (1924), "Keep Shufflin"' (1928), "Hot Chocolates" (1929), and various editions of Lew Leslie's "Blackbirds," one of the best was "Runnin' Wild" (1923), which had music by James P. Johnson. Eubie plays two of James P.'s great songs from that show, the immortal Charleston and the haunting old-fashioned Love, in a medley which also includes James P.'s If I Could Be With You.


Robert E. Kimball
Yale University

From the album The Eighty-six Years of Eubie Blake
Courtesy of Dr. Bob Boury UALR Music Department