Eubie Blake's Shuffle Along: From Ragtime to Broadway

-Introduction-

       Eubie Blake, Baltimore-raised producer of popular ragtime hits, such as “Charleston Rag”, “Bandana Days”, and “Love Will Find a Way”, composed one of the most influential musicals in African-American history. The creation of Shuffle Along, a project collaborated with director, Noble Sissle, was the first musical fully composed and directed by African Americans. Including an entire African-American cast, Shuffle Along  was first opened on Howard’s campus in Washington, D.C. in 1921 and premiered on Broadway later in the spring.

         Shuffle Along included high-tempo jazz dances and comedic songs that were not usually placed or associated with African-American culture in the theatricsWhen the cast had the opportunity to perform at the Sixty-Third Street Theatre in New York City, the musical was deemed successful and profited over 9 million dollars and three touring companies in the long run. This staple collaboration by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle created a space for African-American thoughts and talents in the arts to be successfully portrayed on the theatrical stage in America.

-Shuffle Along Plot Summary-

  • There are two characters: Steve and Sam, that are running against each other in a mayoral election in Jimtown, USA. 
  • If either wins the election, they both agreed that they will appoint one another as chief of police in the town.
  • After Sam wins the election by cheating, Sam and Steve have an entire 20-minute comedic fight scene. 
  • During this fight, Harry Walton, wins the mayoral office by persuading the town of no more fights in a song, “I’m Just Wild about Harry”. 
  • With Harry winning, Sam and Steve are kicked out of town and Harry and a pretty girl fall in love.
Shuffle Along original cast (1921)
Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed (2016)

-Shuffle Along Historical Analysis-

        Shuffle Along had many minstrel show elements that were prominent in the 1930’s, such as jokes about colorism that are still heavily divisive toward the black community and tension between the main two black characters. Many of the female dancers and the “pretty” girl were of a lighter complexion. Furthermore, the plot fed into what was deemed as popular culture in the time setting of the early 30’s.  Although this show could be perceived as derogatory, the positive romantic element of Harry with another black girl presented a sense of black humanity, whites at the time had never seen before. Also in this scenario, black audience members had prime seats in the front, not usually in the back. 

       This musical was seen as a social experiment by the producers. They wondered if white Americans would pay to see an all-black performance, as well as a first all-black female dance group included. Harry S. Truman chose “I’m Just Wild About Harry” as his presidential election anthem. Proving that point, this show was the most successful all-black made show on Broadway at the time. 

Female Dance group of Shuffle Along (1921)
Nondescript scene in Shuffle Along (1921)

-Conclusion-

       In conclusion, Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle’s Shuffle Along created the first successful space for black entertainment in the theatrics. This musical drove black entertainment to be portrayed on the big screen. After Shuffle Along, over 9 African-American musicals hit broadway running with success, the most successful being: Harlem (1929) and Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1928 (1928) , which was the first black musical to run the longest on Broadway. The introduction of black-made Shuffle Along on Broadway walked, so Harlem and Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1928 ran. 

Works Cited

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