At Age 15, Eubie Blake was playing piano in a Baltimore bawdy house. At age 95, he was giving Johnny Carson fits on the Tonight show. And in between he made history as a ragtime pioneer, composer, and by his strong influence on stride piano, the style that bridged the gap between ragtime and a wealth of later jazz piano - a contribution for which he's never gotten proper credit. With lyricist Noble Sissle he wrote five Broadway shows from which came many all-time standards including "I'm Just Wild About Harry" and "Memories of You." When Sissle and Blake's "Shuffle Along" opened on Broadway in 1921, not only was it the first black-written Broadway show, it was also the first produced, directed and performed entirely by blacks. But there was a problem, and it involved a song called "Love Will Find A Way." In 1921, unburlesqued, romantic love interest among blacks had yet to be tried on a white audience. There were dire predictions of everything from boos to bloodshed. Noble Sissle said "On opening night…I was standing at the exit door with one foot inside the theater and the other pointed north toward harlem. I thought of Blake, stuck out there in front, leading the orchestra - his bald head would get the brunt of the tomatoes and rotten eggs." Well…not to worry. The song was well received and another racial barrier came down. "Shuffle Along" ran 504 performances and helped to launch the black cultural renaissance of the 20's. Eubie Blake died in 1983 at age 100.

RETURN TO PHOTO PAGE