A Birthday Blog for Eubie Blake

“I’m Just Wild About Harry” from Shuffle Along by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. New York: Witmark & Sons, 1921. Call number M1508.S.

In a 1972 concert in Berlin, Germany, composer Eubie Blake introduced one of his piano rags by announcing, “Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to play you the first number that I composed, in 1899….Well I’ll tell you, what gives me the license to say that – I was born in Baltimore in 1883, the seventh day of February.” Though Blake always maintained that he was born in 1883, numerous government documents show evidence that he was actually born in 1887. Regardless of the year, on that auspicious February 7th the world welcomed a most significant figure in early-20th-century music.

Blake is most famous for his collaborations with Noble Sissle, and specifically for the 1921 hit musical Shuffle Along. The show was the first musical with an all African-American cast to enjoy serious financial success on Broadway, and it helped to launch the careers of Josephine Baker, Florence Mills, Paul Robeson, and William Grant Still (Still played in the pit orchestra). The most famous song from the show, “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” was originally written as a Viennese waltz but underwent numerous rewrites during rehearsals to become the fabulous foxtrot we all know and love today (and that Harry S. Truman selected as his presidential campaign song for the 1948 election). You can hear a 1921 recording of Eubie Blake leading the Shuffle Along Orchestra on the Library’s National Jukebox (and click here to listen to more Eubie Blake selections in the Jukebox)!

Shuffle Along was revived in 1932 and again in 1952, though neither production was successful. “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” along with over 20 other numbers, was also featured in the 1978 musical revue, Eubie!, which in contrast ran for 439 performances. In 2016, the show Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed opened on Broadway starring Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Brandon Victor Dixon and Billy Porter.

A page of the manuscript score for Eubie Blake’s Charleston Rag, submitted for copyright registration in 1917. Call number ML96.B595 Case

And as for Blake’s first piano rag that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog? That would be his Charleston Rag – and look what we hold in our collections! The composer deposited a manuscript piano score for copyright registration in 1917. According to Blake, he first composed the tune in 1899, even though the score itself did not come to the Library’s collections for another 18 years. The Music Division’s Billy Taylor Papers hold an annotated script for a Eubie Blake birthday tribute that Taylor concludes thusly:

Like a rare few in the history of American music, Eubie Blake will withstand the test of time. In fact, many thought he might well live through it. He died in [1983] — shortly after his one hundredth birthday. Yet, he leaves a multi-dimensional legacy – he enriched the literature of ragtime – he brought black music to Broadway – he was influential in the development of Harlem stride piano – and above all, he brought joy and comfort to the millions of people who touched and continue to touch his music.

Nicholas Longworth and The Friends of Music in the Library of Congress

The following is a guest post from Lara Szypszak of the Music Division. On Friday, January 12, 2018 at 8pm, Italian ensemble Europa Galante will perform in the Coolidge Auditorium. Presented in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute in Washington, DC, this concert honors Nicholas Longworth, former Speaker of the […]

Learning the Backstory to “Rent”

This post is by Emily Hauck, a summer intern in the Library’s Communications Office. A version of this post was first published in the Library of Congress Gazette and it also appeared on the Library of Congress Blog. No matter how much you think you know about a topic, there is always more to discover. I […]

Finding Afro-Kola at the Library of Congress

The following is a guest blog by 2016-2017 Library of Congress Jazz Scholar Ingrid Monson. “Finding Afro-Kola at the Library of Congress”  Ingrid Monson, Harvard University 2016-2017 Library of Congress Jazz Scholar For scholars and researchers interested in jazz, a visit to the Music Division of the Library of Congress can be a rewarding improvisation […]

Courage and Improvisation: The Max Roach Papers

The following is a guest blog by 2016-2017 Library of Congress Jazz Scholar Ingrid Monson. “Courage and Improvisation: The Max Roach Papers” Ingrid Monson, Harvard University 2016-2017 Library of Congress Jazz Scholar As I sat going through box after box of the Max Roach Papers in the Music Division at the Library of Congress, the […]

Pride in the Library: LGBTQ+ Voices in the Library’s Collections

This is a guest post by Meg Metcalf, women’s, gender and LGBTQ+ studies librarian in the Main Reading Room. It was originally posted on the Library of Congress Blog. The collections of the Library of Congress tell the rich and diverse story of LGBTQ+ life in America and around the world. To share this story, […]

Re: Discovery–The Two Opus 2s of Eugen d’Albert

Every so often we read about the discovery of some long-lost manuscript in the crypts of an archive, or the unearthing of a heretofore missing missive found locked in a trunk in somebody’s attic. At the Library of Congress we encounter these proclamations more frequently than you might think, usually in the world of special […]

“I Will Survive”

The following post originally appeared on the Copyright: Creativity at Work Blog and was written by George Thuronyi of the U.S. Copyright Office. As a teenager during the 1970s, I put on my bell-bottom pants and shiny shirt to groove to the latest disco hits. I was not alone. Disco culture was highly popular and […]