Composers Datebook®

Eubie Blake flunks retirement

Composers Datebook - Feb. 7, 2024


You might say that Eubie Blake flunked retirement.

In 1946, with a five-decade career as a successful performer and composer behind him, Blake retired at 63. He was the son of former slaves, and his religious mother objected to ragtime music on principle. But in 1899, while still a teenager, Blake penned a classic: The Charleston Rag. In 1915, he formed a songwriting partnership with a talented young singer named Noble Sissle, and, in the 1920s, the two men fused ragtime and operetta into a series of smash Broadway shows.

During World War II, Blake toured with USO shows, and, after retiring in 1946, studied composition formally at New York University, collecting and editing his works for posterity.

In the 1950s, a revival of interest in early jazz coaxed Blake out of retirement, and the use of ragtime music in the film The Sting transformed that interest into a pop culture sensation.

On today’s date in 1973, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, Blake was honored by ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), and in 1981, at 98, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Music Played in Today's Program

Sousa, arr. Eubie Blake (1887-1983) Semper Fidelis; Eubie Blake, piano Columbia (LP) C2S-847

On This Day


  • 1871 - Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar, in Stockholm;

  • 1883 - American jazz pianist and song composer Eubie Blake, in Baltimore;

  • 1897 - American composer Quincy Porter, in New Haven, Conn.;

  • 1925 - Rumanian-born French composer Marius Constant, in Bucharest;


  • 1652 - Italian composer and Papal Chapel singer Gregorio Allegri, age .c 70, in Rome;

  • 1779 - English composer and organist William Boyce, age 67, in Kensington;


  • 1733 - Handel: opera “Orlando” in London (Julian date: Jan.27);

  • 1786 - Mozart: opera "Der Schauspieldirektor" (The Impressario), in Vienna at the Orangerie at Schönbrunn;

  • 1792 - Cimarosa: opera "Il Matrimonio segreto" (The Secret Marriage), in Vienna at the Burgtheater;

  • 1873 - Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 (“Little Russian”), in Moscow (Julian date: Jan. 26);

  • 1875 - Lalo: "Symphonie espagnole" for Violin and Orchestra, in Paris, Edouard Colonne conducting, with Pablo de Sarasate the soloist;

  • 1882 - Borodin: String Quartet No. 2 in D, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Jan.26);

  • 1893 - Brahms: Capriccio in d, No. 7 from "Fantasies" for Piano, Op. 116, in Vienna;

  • 1908 - Chadwick: "Symphonic Sketches," by the Boston Symphony, with Karl Muck conducting;

  • 1907 - Rimsky-Korsakov: opera “Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh,” in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Feb. 20);

  • 1922 - Stenhammar: incidental music for Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," at the Lorensberg Theater in Gothenburg, Sweden;

  • 1931 - Deems Taylor: opera "Peter Ibbetson" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York;

  • 1941 - first public performance of Barber: Violin Concerto, by Philadelphia Orchestra, with Eugene Ormandy conducting and Albert Spalding the soloist;

  • 1941 - Hindemith: Cello Concerto, Op. 7, by the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky conducting with Gregor Piatigorsky the soloist;

  • 1953 - Martinu: "The Marriage," one-act opera (after Gogol) on the NBC TV network; One of the earliest operas specifically written for television, it is nowadays all but forgotten;

  • 1957 - Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 7 (arr. Bogatiiryov), in Moscow; This arrangement uses sketches for Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 3 and for another unfinished work for piano and orchestra as the basis for a "new" symphonic work by the late composer;

  • 1964 - Sessions: Symphony No. 5, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;

  • 1988 - Tan Dun: "Out of Peking Opera" for violin and orchestra, at Lincoln Center, with soloist Vera Weiling Tsu and the New York City Symphony, David Eaton conducting;

  • 1996 - Zwilich: Triple Concerto for violin, cello, piano and orchestra, by the Minnesota Orchestra, Zdenek Macal conducting, with the Kalichstein/Laredo/Robinson Trio as the soloists;


  • 1973 - On his 90th birthday, Jazz pianist and song composer Eubie Blake, the son of former slaves, is honored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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