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 at the age of 63. 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 the 1920s the two men fused ragtime and operetta into a series of smash Broadway shows.
During World War II, Eubie 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 the age of 98, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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