Long-Forgotten Sissle & Blake
by Ken Bloom
A few years ago, we at Harbinger launched our first album devoted to the work of the great composer and ragtime pianist Eubie Blake. In 1921 it was Eubie who, with his lyricist–partner Noble Sissle, wrote the trailblazing, smash hit musical Shuffle Along, one of the first Broadway musicals created and performed entirely by African Americans.
That first disc won Harbinger a Grammy Award for the liner notes I wrote with Richard Carlin—and the CD was filled with juicy archival recordings from Shuffle Along, including the hit songs “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find a Way.”
Now we’re back with more! We proudly present the original demonstration records—most of them performed by Sissle & Blake—for the much-anticipated Shuffle Along of 1950, a revised treatment of their earlier hit. Blake even provides a running narration.
The bad news is that the show didn’t make it on Broadway when it was finally produced in 1952. But the very good news is that these ultra-rare recordings capture the two songwriters in peak form. Their songs are downright effervescent; you can’t help smiling throughout.
And there’s a bonus: a re-mastering of the only surviving acetate of a 1950 radio program hosted by Ruth King, the famed Cleveland DJ who celebrated back musicians. On this program, her guests, in addition to Sissle & Blake, include the legendary W.C. Handy, composer of “St. Louis Blues.” All of them perform for Ms. King, and it’s quite a party!
In our liner notes, Richard and I tell the fascinating story of Shuffle Along of 1950 and its ill-fated revival two years later. This is a tale of great highs and the lowest of lows—in short, indispensable listening and reading for connoisseurs of both Broadway and jazz.
And keep on the lookout for our book on Eubie Blake, to be published next year by Oxford University Press.
To purchase Shuffle Along of 1950 from Amazon now, click here.
In 1983, musical theater historian Ken Bloom co-founded Harbinger Records, now a division of The Musical Theater Project, with Bill Rudman.
By Ken Bloom
We drive to a movie theater, plunk down $10 and hope for the best. Nothing special in a world in which we’re assaulted with downloads, streaming, cable TV, DVDs, apps and myriad other ways to watch movies on screens ranging from 40 feet to four inches across.
But back in the day when the movies were a brand new art form, it was exciting to watch it all grow from nickelodeons to makeshift theaters—wherever a sheet could be hung and folding chairs could provide the seating. Purpose-built theaters followed, and soon motion pictures became an industry.
You’ll feel as if you were there thanks to Harbinger Records’ fascinating new release, Let’s Go In to a Picture Show--an album that captures that glorious era when silent motion pictures swept the country.
The words in the title, one of the CD’s 26 tracks, tell us a lot. Today we just say we’re going to the movies, but to “Go In to a…” movie…that’s different. It suggests an occasion to be relished, and listening to the songs on our album, all of them written and recorded between 1907 and 1922, conjures up a vital part of the American Experience.
What kind of songs? As silent movies grew in popularity, it was a sure thing that Tin Pan Alley would jump on the bandwagon and come up with topical songs about going to the movies, as well as songs written for the movie scores played on everything from a single piano to a theater organ or a full orchestra.
Now, thankfully, these early recordings have been saved from obscurity. The titles are priceless, including “Chimmie and Maggie in Nickel Land,” “That’s a Real Moving Picture From Life,” “Those Charlie Chaplin Feet” and “Take Your Girlie to the Movies.”
That last one is perhaps the most significant, at least sociologically. Social mores were crumbling: For a nickel, a guy could take his girl to the movies, sit in the dark and “spoon”—that sounds innocent now, but what a thrill it must have been in 1919!
This collection has been a pet project for several years, ever since it was brought to me by Ron Magliozzi, curator of the department of film at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). We finally got it finished, and Ron’s presence and commitment make it a prestigious addition to our catalog.
He’s written a liner note for every song (and all lyrics are included in the 28-page booklet), offering delightful glances at then-current attitudes toward the cinema.
Prepare to enter another world…
In 1983, Grammy Award-winning musical theater historian Ken Bloom co-founded Harbinger Records, now a division of TMTP, with Bill Rudman.
HOW TO PURCHASE “LET’S GO IN TO A PICTURE SHOW, 1907-22”
Visit HarbingerRecords.com; available for order and download at Arkhiv.com and iTunes.
The Musical Theater Project's authors include Bill Rudman, Heather Meeker and Joanna May Cullinan - and guest writers from time to time!