Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake, christened James Hurbert Blake, was born in Baltimore, Maryland on February 7, 1883, the son of John Sumner Blake, a stevedore and laundress. His parents, who were former slaves, bore eleven children of which only Eubie survived to adulthood.

At the age of five while shopping with his mother in a store in Baltimore, young Eubie climbed up onto an organ stool and proceeded to give his first concert on the organ. After much coaxing from the store manager, a $75 organ was placed in the Blake home at the cost of 25c a week and Eubie Blake s career began.

Little would anyone envisage on that day, that 90 years later, Eubie Blake would still be playing his music albeit with far greater dexterity. Nor would anyone have imagined that at 95 years of age, Eubie Blake would still be giving concerts, touring colleges and universities, meeting and playing for the President of the United States at the White House and doing television shows. But that was Eubie Blake, a gentle man of incredible abilities and talents whose career spanned the horse and buggy days to the space age.

At the age of six, he started taking piano lessons and he was later taught musical composition by Llewelyn Wilson, an accomplished musician who at one time conducted an all-Negro Symphony Orchestra sponsored by the city of Baltimore.

Eubie s mother, a very religious woman, took great exception to the syncopation that he put into playing her church hymns. Syncopation, whose source was African, took on special forms in the American plantation as a strong evocation of the anger towards the status quo and the yearnings for freedom in this country.

Near the end of the 19th Century, Eubie Blake got his first job playing piano at Agnes Shelton s sporting house in Baltimore. On July 4, 1901, he made his professional debut in Fairfield, Pennsylvania with Dr. Frazier's Medicine Show where he played the melodeon (an old keyboard instrument sometimes called the American organ) and occasionally did buck dancing on the back of a truck. He then toured as a buck dancer in In Old Kentucky (which played in New York s Academy of Music in 1902), and a year later he returned to Baltimore as a pianist at Greenfeld s Saloon. Patrons at Greenfeld s and Annie Giley s sporting house heard him play his Charleston Rag , his first ragtime composition which he composed in 1899. Following a short stay in New York in 1905, he became a pianist at Baltimore s Middle Section Assembly Club.

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