First Successful African-American Musical Closes Today After Long Run
The first successful African-American Broadway musical wrapped up today (July 15, 1922).
The musical, titled “Shuffle Along,” was a revolutionary piece of work, written by legendary songwriters Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake.
“Shuffle Along” was notable for several reasons.
In addition to helping spark what is known as the “Harlem Renaissance,” “Shuffle Along” featured a number of notable cast members, including Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, and briefly, Paul Robeson.
“Shuffle Along” opened on May 23, 1921 and ran on Broadway for over 500 performances.
The musical creators, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake were pioneers of African-American songwriting.
Noble Sissle was born in Indianapolis, in July 1889.
He attended Butler University, toured with Thomas’s Jubilee Singers and worked under pioneering African-American bandleader, James Reese Europe.
Eubie Blake was born February 7, 1894, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Blake was a musical prodigy, who composed his first ragtime piece titled “Charlston Rag,” in 1899, when he was around 12 years old.
Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle met in 1915 and formed a partnership, where Eubie Blake focused on the music, while Noble Sissle wrote the lyrics.
After World War I, Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake and James Europe decided to set their sights on a new all-black Broadway show.
They weren’t the first African-Americans featured on Broadway.
Bert Williams and George Walker managed to crack the Broadway stage in 1903 with their musical “Indahomey.”
But it was “Shuffle Along” that brought African-American musicals into the mainstream, when it opened in May of 1921, at the 63rd Street Theater on Broadway.
“Shuffle Along” produced a number of hits, including “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” “Baltimore Buzz,” and “Bandana Days.”
Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake ended their relationship in 1926, when they parted ways.
The pair were also pioneers of the recording industry.
Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake recorded for Columbia Records as early as 1917, in New York.
Noble Sissle also recorded 11 sides for the Pathe recording company in 1917.
Waxfact: Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake’s song “I’m Just Wild About Harry” was also Harry Truman’s campaign anthem.