Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Wednesday, February 7

Eubie Blake flunks retirement

Synopsis

You might say that Eubie Blake flunked retirement.

In 1946, with a five-decade career as a successful performer and composer behind him, Eubie Blake retired. He was 63 at the time. The son of former slaves, Blake’s 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 1921, the two men produced “Shuffle Along,” a smash-hit Broadway show that fused ragtime and operetta and proved to be a major influence on the classic Broadway musicals of the 1920s and 30s.

During World War II, Eubie Blake toured as a musical director of USO shows, and, as mentioned, officially retired in 1946, using his leisure time to study composition formally at New York University and to collect and edit his own work for posterity
.
In the 1950s, a revival of interest in ragtime music coaxed Blake out of retirement, and the successful use of ragtime music in the 1973 film “The Sting” transformed the ragtime revival into a major pop culture phenomenon.

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 the age of 98, Blake 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

Additional Information

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