“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, early June, 1921, 63rd Street Music Hall, north of Broadway, New York City, New York

Shuffle Along, the first Broadway production in over a decade that has all African-Americans as producers, writers, and actors, is doing such bang up business in its first week that there are traffic jams each night before the curtain goes up.

With music and lyrics by Noble Sissle, 31, and Eubie Blake, 34, the revue is based on their vaudeville act, and they even wear their vaudeville tuxedos when they perform at the end of the second act.

Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake

As producers, Blake and Sissle had no trouble finding talent for Shuffle Along. The cast is terrific. In the auditions they found one 15-year-old who was fabulous but still too young for Broadway. They told Josephine Baker to come back next year when she turns 16.

The most amazing aspect, however, is that so many people—white and Black—are willing to find their way up here to see an all-Black musical. Blake and Sissle were glad to finally secure a theatre, but it’s not a great location. This music hall is surrounded by garages and auto parts stores and so small it doesn’t even have a proper orchestra pit. Blake says,

It isn’t Broadway, but we made it Broadway.”

Shuffle Along is a hit. Audiences are humming “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” sung by the star—and Eubie’s girlfriend—Lottie Gee, 34, as they walk out of the theatre. Sissle was nervous about how the opening night crowd would accept the tender love scene between the two Black leads, featuring the song “Love Will Find a Way.” He and Blake watched from near the exit door, ready to flee. But the audience called for an encore!

Sheet music for I’m Just Wild About Harry

To hear Eubie Blake and his Shuffle Along orchestra, click here.

To hear a piece from National Public Radio [NPR] about the centenary of the opening of Shuffle Along, click here

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume I covering 1920 is available on Amazon in print and e-book versions. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This summer I will be talking about The Literary 1920s in the Osher Lifelong Learning programs at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book formats.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

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