Shuffle Along

After a restricted invitation performance at the Sixty-Third Street Music Hall on May 22, 1921 [see review from NYTimes], Shuffle Along premiered on May 23, 1921. Written by the famous comic duo of Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, with music and lyrics by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, it was a surprising hit that ran for 504 performances at the Cort Theatre, establishing a new era of African-American participation in American theatre and striking a major blow against racial stereotyping and segregation, not the least because the production did not follow the racist practice of restricting black theatergoers to the balcony, welcoming them to the orchestra seats as well.

This revue legitimized the African-American musical, demonstrating to producers and managers that audiences were ready to pay to see African-American talent on Broadway. With its all-black cast, the musical brought black actors back to Broadway after a 10-year absence and laid the foundation for public acceptance of African-American performers in other than "burlesque" roles.

Florence Mills

Shuffle Along introduced Broadway to Florence Mills, then a rising star who obtained international fame due to the success of the show, and Paul Robeson. The revue also had an innovative female chorus, which included 15-year-old dancer and singer Josephine Baker. They combined jazz dance and jazz music, creating an improvisational style of dancing that encouraged individual expression. Other Broadway producers, including those of the Ziegfeld Follies, were so impressed that they hired several of the Shuffle Along girls.

Noble Sissle with chorus girls

Chorus girls - publicity shot

It also featured the first serious, realistic and somehow sophisticated African-American love story. Until Shuffle Along, love scenes between blacks had been a taboo unless they were stereotyped and often degrading cartoon caricatures, under the belief that white audiences would not accept anything more sophisticated. Loften Mitchell, author of Black Drama: The Story of the American Negro in the Theatre, credits Shuffle Along (1921) with launching the Harlem Renaissance. Written, staged, and performed entirely by black people, Shuffle Along was the first show to make African-American dance an integral part of American musical theatre. It also introduced the song "Love Will Find a Way” and other hits that would be part of the jazz and popular music repertory such as “I’m Just Wild About Henry” or “Bandana Days”. As a bit of trivia, years later President Harry Truman picked the former for his campaign anthem.

Here’s the complete program of Shuffle Along:

Act I
-I'm Simply Full of Jazz - Ruth Little and Syncopation Steppers
-Love Will Find a Way - Jessie Williams and Harry Walton
-Bandana Days - Alderman and Company
-Sing Me to Sleep, Dear Mammy - Harry Walton and Board of Aldermen
-(In) Honeysuckle Time (When Emmaline Said She'd Be Mine) - Tom Sharper
-Gypsy Blues - Jessie Williams, Ruth Little and Harry Walton

Act II
-Shuffle Along - Jimtown Pedestrians and Traffic Cop
-I'm Just Wild About Harry - Jessie Williams and Jimtown Sunflowers
-Syncopation Stenos - Mayor's Staff
-Good Night Angeline - Board of Aldermen
-If You Haven't Been Vamped by a Brownskin, You Haven't Been Vamped at All - Steve Jenkins, Sam Peck and Jimtown Vamps
-Uncle Tom and Old Black Joe - Uncle Tom and Old Black Joe
-Everything Reminds Me of You - Jessie Williams and Harry Walton
-Oriental Blues - Tom Sharper and Oriental Girls
-I Am Craving for That Kind of Love/ Daddy (Won't You Please Come Home) - Ruth Little
-Baltimore Buzz - Tom Sharper and Jimtown's Jazz Steppers
-African Dip - Steve Jenkins and Sam Peck

Road versions of the show toured successfully throughout the country until 1924, and there were several revivals through the years: in 1932, the show was revived at the Mansfield Theatre but closed after seventeen performances and, in 1933, Blake, Sissle, Miller, and Lyles reunited but the production did not gain critical success. Then there was the 1952 revival, starring Sissle and Blake and choreographed by Henry LeTang, but it was also unsuccessful.

Eubie Blake recorded several of the Shuffle Along tunes in 1921. Here’s the discographical information for those recording sessions, according to Brian Rust’s JAZZ AND RAGTIME RECORDS 1897–1942 (Sixth Edition — CD-ROM Version).

New York, June 30, 1921
Piano solos, with probably Vess Williams, as / Leroy Vanderveer, bj added*

-Bandana Days - Victor test (unnumbered)
-I'm Just Wild About Harry - Victor test (unnumbered)
-*Baltimore Buzz - Victor test (unnumbered)


New York, July 11, 1921
Same personal, with Broadway Jones, v added.

-Baltimore Buzz – Victor test (unnumbered)
-Dah's Gwinter Be Er Landslide [sic] - Victor test (unnumbered)


New York, July 15, 1921
EUBIE BLAKE AND HIS SHUFFLE ALONG ORCHESTRA: Eubie Blake, p, dir: Billy Hicks, Russell Smith, t / Calvin Jones, tb / Bill Johnson, cl / Vess Williams, as / Sam Yearwood, f / o / Willie Carroll, vn / Leroy Vandervaer, bj / John Ricks, bb / George Reeves, d

-25465-2 - Baltimore Buzz (intro: In Honeysuckle Time) - Victor 18791, Victor 18789 (Canada only), HMV B-1297
-25466-4 - Bandana Days (intro: I'm Just Wild About Harry) - Victor 18791, Victor 18789 (Canada only), HMV B-1297, Zon-O-Phone 3325

NOTE: Both sides of US Victor 18789 are different titles, by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra.

Eubie Blake an his Shuffle Along Orchestra - 1921 - left to right back row: Vess Williams, John Ricks, Calvin Jones, Russell Smith, Billy Hicks. left to right front row: George Reeves, Yarborough, L. Johnson, Eubie Blake, Carroll.


New York, July, 1921
Piano solos

-41885-4 - Baltimore Buzz - Emerson 10434
-41886-4-5-6 - Sounds Of Africa (African Rag*) - Emerson 10434, Symphanola 4360, Paramount 14004*

NOTE: Paramount 14004 as by “unknown rag pianist”, dubbed from a blank-labeled test bearing the title AFRICA. The selection is a retitling of Blake's CHARLESTON RAG.


Rust lists only 78 rpm issues. LP reissues of these recordings were scarce and, to my knowledge, there's no CD reissue.

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario