Considered by many to be one of the founders and fathers of ragtime
The son of former slaves, Eubie Blake was born in Baltimore, Maryland on February 7, 1883. At the age of 4 or 5 he began tinkering around on his families organ. They soon took notice of his talent and signed him up for piano lessons. By the time he was six, he was able to replay the songs he heard in his mothers Baptist church.
Upon turning 15 in 1898, he began his professional career. Like most black musicians of his day, Eubie played mostly in honky-tonks, bars, and brothels. It was in this venue that he started to develop the "ragtime" style of music. On of his first professional gigs was that of a dancer in a minstrel show called "In Old Kentucky". It was also during this time that he began to compose his own music. In 1899, his first piece, "Charleston Rag" was published.
It was in 1915 that Blake met what was to become his songwriting partner, Nobel Sissle. They collaborated on a vaudeville act that went by the name of "The Dixie Duo". Their first hit song, "It's All Your Fault" was performed by Sophie Tucker, a white singer and became an instant success.
By 1920, Blake and Sissle were looking to expand their repertoire and were ready to stage a different kind of performance. The result was a Broadway musical that went by the name of "Shuffle Along". It contained some of Blake's signature tunes such as "I'm Just Wild About Harry" and "Love Will Find a Way". It was so successful that it started a trend of Broadway shows featuring African-American song and dance. In 1921, "Shuffle Along" became so popular that it was being performed simultaneously by three touring companies. It also helped launch the careers of other African- American entertainers, most notably, Josephine Baker, Florence Mills and Paul Robeson. Some of Blake and Sissle other Broadway credits include "The Chocolate Dandies" in 1924, "Blackbirds of 1930", "Shuffle Along of 1933", "Sing It" in 1937 and "Shuffle Along in 1952".
After World War II the popularity of ragtime began to decline and Eubie temporarily retired. With the re-birth of ragtime in the 1950s, Eubie came out of retirement and began touring on a worldwide basis. He also appeared frequently on radio and television, playing his beloved ragtime and lecturing on the subject. After ragtime went on yet another hiatus in the public eye Eubie retired from the public eye. Following yet another spurt of interest in the mid 1960s, Eubie recorded "The Eighty Six Years of Eubie Blake" in 1969. He also established a musical publishing and recording company and went on the tour circuit, performing at jazz festivals in New Orleans in 1969 and at Newport, Rhode Island in 1971. In 1978, the musical revue "Eubie!" opened on Broadway and enjoyed a long and successful run.
During his lifetime, Eubie Blake received numerous honorary degrees and awards from various institutions. Probably the most prestigious, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, was bestowed to him in 1981 at the age of 97. Eubie Blake remained active in his career until his death on February 12, 1983 in Brooklyn, New York, five days after his hundredth birthday.