Birthday of Jazz Composer Eubie Blake

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James Hubert Blake, or Eubie Blake, was born in 1887 on this day to John Blake and Emily Johnstone, both former slaves. From a young age, he displayed a proclivity toward music which his parents encouraged, buying him a pump organ at age five. After getting his first performing gig at age 15 and playing in a vaudeville orchestra after that, he paired up with Noble Sissle to form their own vaudeville act, the Dixie Duo. From that, they began working on a Broadway musical, Shuffle Along, which became the first Broadway hit musical written by and about African-Americans. During the 20s, he made three movies, two of them with collaborator Sissle. He served as a bandleader with the United Services Organizations through World War II afterwhich, he enrolled at New York University, completing his undergraduate degree in two and a half years. In 1981 he received the Presidential Medal of Honor. He continued to play piano and make recordings throughout his life. He died in Brooklyn, New York in 1983. Among his most famous works are “Charleston Rag,” “Bandana Days,” “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Memories of You.” A musical, Eubie!, featuring many of his works, opened in 1978.

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