Eubie Blake was an American composer, lyricist, and pianist, noted for his jazz and ragtime compositions. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Blake showed a natural musical talent from an early age. Without his parents’ knowledge, he began playing piano in a local brothel aged 15 and got his first big break in 1907 when he was hired to play the piano at Gans’ Goldfield Hotel. He played there until 1914 and, during this period, studied composition under the noted African-American musicians Llewellyn Wilson.
In 1912, Blake started playing with James Reece Europe’s Society Orchestra. Following World War One, Blake formed a vaudeville act, “The Dixie Duo”, with Noble Sissle. Together, they worked on the musical Shuffle Along, along with Aubrey Lyles and Flourney Miller. The show was a huge success on Broadway and catapulted Blake and Sissle’s song, “I’m Just Wild About Harry” into the popular songbook.
During the 1920s and early 1930s, Blake ventured into film, appearing in films such as Pie, Pie Blackbird (1932) and providing the music for the 1932 film, Harlem is Heaven. He served as a bandleader with the USO during World War Two but retired from performing shortly after. Blake went on to study the Schillinger System of Musical Composition at New York University and used it to transcribe songs he had composed, but never written down.
In 1969, Blake reunited with Noble Sissle to produce the album The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake. The album was a hit and popularized Blake’s music once more. The Broadway revue musical, Eubie! premiered in 1978 and received three Tony Award nominations. In October 1981, Blake received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He continued to play and record music until his death in 1983, aged 96.
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