Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle

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Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle

February 2, 2018- Today's Harlem Topic: Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle

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Eubie Blake was born in Baltimore in 1887, the son of former slaves. He was drawn to
syncopated music and started playing piano professionally at the age of 15. He also started
writing his own songs and moved to New York in 1905 with the idea of getting one published. It
didn’t happen at that time so he went back to Baltimore and studied informally with several
piano masters including James P. Johnson, Willie “the Lion” Smith and Luckey Roberts.

Noble Sissle was born in Indianapolis in 1889. His father was a Methodist Minister and his
mother was a school teacher. He later attended Butler University and sang in Glee Clubs.

Due to the success of James Reese Europe, Sissle was ask to organize his own Orchestra
which he led at the Indianapolis Severin Hotel until 1915 when he moved to Baltimore.

There, he met Eubie Blake and they became songwriting partners writing several successful
songs including It’s All Your Fault” for Sophie Tucker.

In 1916 Sissle came to New York and went to work for James Reese Europe soon leading his
own group at the Clef Club. That summer Blake relocated to New York to join him.

With the outbreak of World War 1 in 1917, Sissle enlisted along with James Reese Europe and
helped him recruit members for the military band he was forming. Blake was too old for the
military so he stayed behind and wrote music to the songs that Europe and Sissle sent back
from France.

Once the war was over Europe, Sissle and Blake planned to work together to bring African
American shows to Broadway. It ended tragically when Europe was murdered by one of his
band members.

After Europe's death, Sissle and Blake joined the elusive white vaudeville circuit where they
billed themselves as The Dixie Duo and wrote many hit songs.

In 1920 they met Flournoy E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles at a NAACP benefit. Miller and Lyles were
long time veterans of black show business and themselves had a dream of bringing African
American shows to white theater. Miller believed that the only way African-American performers
would make it with any dignity was through musical comedy. After seeing Sissle and Blake's
Dixie Duo performance, he and Lyles approached the pair to ask if they would be interested in
teaming together for such a production.

Sissle and Blake, who saw this as a way to achieve Europe's dream as well as their own,
agreed. So the four men put together their resources and set about to write, direct, manage and
star in their own musical comedy.

The result was "Shuffle Along." Shuffle Along premiered in New York on May 23, 1921 and had a
successful run of 504 performances. It was so popular that it caused curtain time traffic jams on
west 63rd st. The show broke down racial barriers and introduced the careers of Josephine
Baker, Florence Mills and Paul Robeson. Several of the shows songs became popular including
“Love will Find A Way” and “I’m Just Wild About Harry.”

Noble Sissle died in 1975 at the age of 86 in Tampa, Florida. His rendition of the song "Viper
Mad" was included in the Woody Allen film "Sweet and Lowdown."

Eubie!, a revue featuring the music of Eubie Blake, with lyrics by Noble Sissle, Andy Razaf,
Johnny Brandon, and James 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 on for Blake’s score. Blake continued to play and record
until his death, on February 12, 1983, in Brooklyn, just five days after celebrating his purported
100th birthday.
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