1887 - 1983
Eubie Blake (1887-1983), is an American pianist and composer of ragtime music, popular and vaudeville tunes, and scores for musical theatre—most notably Shuffle Along (1921), his groundbreaking collaboration with singer and lyricist Noble Sissle. Blake was raised by parents who were former slaves, and he was involved with music from a very young age. When he was four or five he began to play a pump organ at home. As a teenager he played piano in brothels and saloons, and by his mid-20s he had secured steady engagements at the Goldfield Hotel in Baltimore as well as at several clubs in Atlantic City. In 1915 Blake teamed up with the singer and lyricist Noble Sissle, and the duo began composing songs. Their career was given a great boost when one of their songs, “It’s All Your Fault,” was featured in the performances of the popular vaudeville and nightclub singer Sophie Tucker. In 1916, via Sissle's recommendation, Blake then joined the Society Orchestra, a Harlem-based group led by James Reese Europe. After Sissle returned from serving in World War I, he and Blake performed on the vaudeville circuit as the Dixie Duo, discarding the prevalent convention of the time of performing in black face. In 1945, Blake enrolled in a music program at New York University and graduated at the age of 67. During the 1950s, ragtime once again began to be appreciated by the public and hence over the years Blake would be recognized as one of the great living purveyors of the form. In 1969, he recorded with Columbia Records The 86 Years of Eubie Blake. He became a regular guest on The Tonight Show during the '70s, received many awards—including the Presidential Medal of Honor—and performed until he was in his late 90s, having ultimately composed more than 350 songs. In 1978, the show Eubie! premiered on Broadway, a hit musical overview of the pioneer's life. In honor of Blake's 100th birthday, the Kennedy Center presented the televised Eubie Blake: A Century of Music, which won an Emmy Award in 1983.