Long-Forgotten Sissle & Blake
by Ken Bloom
A few years ago, we at Harbinger launched our first album devoted to the work of the great composer and ragtime pianist Eubie Blake. In 1921 it was Eubie who, with his lyricist–partner Noble Sissle, wrote the trailblazing, smash hit musical Shuffle Along, one of the first Broadway musicals created and performed entirely by African Americans.
That first disc won Harbinger a Grammy Award for the liner notes I wrote with Richard Carlin—and the CD was filled with juicy archival recordings from Shuffle Along, including the hit songs “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find a Way.”
Now we’re back with more! We proudly present the original demonstration records—most of them performed by Sissle & Blake—for the much-anticipated Shuffle Along of 1950, a revised treatment of their earlier hit. Blake even provides a running narration.
The bad news is that the show didn’t make it on Broadway when it was finally produced in 1952. But the very good news is that these ultra-rare recordings capture the two songwriters in peak form. Their songs are downright effervescent; you can’t help smiling throughout.
And there’s a bonus: a re-mastering of the only surviving acetate of a 1950 radio program hosted by Ruth King, the famed Cleveland DJ who celebrated back musicians. On this program, her guests, in addition to Sissle & Blake, include the legendary W.C. Handy, composer of “St. Louis Blues.” All of them perform for Ms. King, and it’s quite a party!
In our liner notes, Richard and I tell the fascinating story of Shuffle Along of 1950 and its ill-fated revival two years later. This is a tale of great highs and the lowest of lows—in short, indispensable listening and reading for connoisseurs of both Broadway and jazz.
And keep on the lookout for our book on Eubie Blake, to be published next year by Oxford University Press.
To purchase Shuffle Along of 1950 from Amazon now, click here.
In 1983, musical theater historian Ken Bloom co-founded Harbinger Records, now a division of The Musical Theater Project, with Bill Rudman.