Syncopated Sunday – February 7, Eubie Blake

Syncopated Sunday

Eubie Blake, composer, lyricist, jazz and ragtime musician and genius, was born on February 7, 1887* in Baltimore, Maryland. The official date of his birth has been the subject of some controversy and inquiry. (I use the date reflected in official documents such as his social security application.) He was born to former slaves as James Hubert Blake. A real musical prodigy, Blake began playing a pump organ at the age of four or five. He composed his first ragtime piano piece as a youngster. Blake began performing professionally as a teen, playing in vaudeville shows.  In 1910, he married classical pianist Avis Lee.  The two were married until her death in 1939. May 1915 was a momentous month because it was when Blake met Noble Sissle.  The two formed a prolific musical partnership known as the “Dixie Duo”.  Not only did they write and perform musical shows, but in 1921 they produced the musical Shuffle Along, the first Broadway show to be written, produced and performed by Blacks. It was one of the most popular musicals on Broadway, and it was the first to include jazz compositions. The play launched a number of Black performers, including Paul Robeson, and is credited with helping to ignite the Harlem Renaissance. Blake had a commercially successful, decades-long career, during which he paused to enroll in New York University in 1946, and earn his college degree in two and one half years. Like other talented Black artists, Blake frequently suffered the indignities and affronts of racism, performing in places and establishments that would not accept him as a guest or patron. Blake is largely responsible for the resurgence of ragtime and jazz. He was rediscovered in the 1970s, when interest in ragtime was renewed. Amazingly, Blake continued to perform up until his death on February 12, 1983 in New York City.

Charles M. Christian, Black Saga: The African American Experience (1995)

Herb Boyd, Wild About Eubie Blake, the great pianist and composer, Amsterdam News (February 13, 2014): 

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