Composer, lyricist, pianist of ragtime, jazz and poupular music James Hubert Blake, was born on February 7,1887, in Baltimore, Maryland to former slaves John Summer Blake and Emily "Emma" Johnson. He was the only surviving child of eight who all died in infancy.
In 1921, Blake and long-time collaborator Noble Sissle wrote the Broadway musical Shuffle Along, one of the first Broadway musicals to be written and directed by African Americans.
Blake's compositions included such hits as, "Bandana Days", "Charleston Rag", "Love Will Find A Way", "Memories of You", and "I'm Just Wild About Harry". The musical Eubie! featured the works of Blake and opened on Broadway in 1978.
Blake's musical training began when he was just four or five years old. While out shopping with his mother, he wandered into a music store, climbed on the bench of an organ, and started "foolin’" around. When his mother found him, the store manager said to her: "The child is a genius! It would be criminal to deprive him of the chance to make use of such a sublime, God-given talent."
The Blakes purchased a pump organ for US$75.00 making payments of 25 cents a week. When Blake was seven, he received music lessons from their neighbor, Margaret Marshall, an organist from the Methodist church. At age fifteen, without knowledge of his parents, he played piano at Aggie Shelton’s Baltimore bordello. Blake got his first big break in the music business when world champion boxer Joe Gans hired him to play the piano at Gans' Goldfield Hotel, the first "black and tan club" in Baltimore in 1907.
In 1923, Blake made three films in DeForest's Phonofilm sound-on-film process. They were Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake featuring their song "Affectionate Dan", Sissle and Blake Sing Snappy Songs featuring "Sons of Old Black Joe" and "My Swanee Home", and Eubie Blake Plays His Fantasy on Swanee River featuring Blake performing his "Fantasy on Swanee River". These films are preserved in the Maurice Zouary film collection in the Library of Congress collection.
In the 1950s, interest in ragtime revived and Blake, one of its last surviving artists, found himself launching yet another career as ragtime artist, music historian, and educator. Blake signed recording deals with 20th Century Records and Columbia Records, lectured and gave interviews at major colleges and universities all over the world, and appeared as guest performer and clinician at top jazz and rag festivals.
He was a frequent guest of The Johnny Carson Show and Merv Griffin. Blake was featured by leading conductors such as Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Fiedler. On October 9, 1981, Blake received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Ronald Reagan.
Blake claimed that he started smoking cigarettes when he was 10 years old, and continued to smoke all his life. The fact that he smoked for 85 years was used by some politicians in tobacco-growing states to build support against anti-tobacco legislation.
Eubie Blake died February 12, 1983, in Brooklyn, just five days after celebrating his 100th birthday.
Alberta Hunter sings "Memories of You" to Eubie Blake
Reference - Wikipédia