Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Born in Baltimore

There is some controversy as to his true birth date but it looks as though Eubie Blake was born James Hubert Blake on February 7, 1887 to former slaves on Forrest Street in Baltimore. He was the only surviving child of 8. The other children never made it out of infancy. His father worked as a stevedore on the Baltimore docks for $9.00 a week. It was very important to him that his son learned how to read. Eubie's mother was a God fearing woman who subsidized the family income by taking in wash.

Eubie's musical talent was discovered when he was 4 or 5 years old. He was shopping with his mother when he wandered away into a music store. He sat down at the organ and started just playing around on it. The store manager recognized the young boy's talent and encouraged his mother to nurture it. The family managed to buy a $75.00 pump organ for Eubie, paying .25 a week for it. He started receiving lessons from a church organist when he was 7 years old.

He was always attracted to ragtime music. His mother heard him practicing one day and yelled," Get that ragtime music out of my house!" She wanted him to only play sacred music. He was drawn to the music which they played in bordellos and funeral marches. He was soon following funeral marches so he could study the music. His mother tried to put an end to that.

By the time he was 15 he was secretly playing the piano at Aggie Shelton's bordello. He claimed he actually wrote the Charlestown Rag in 1899 but had to wait to put it on paper until he learned how to write musical notation in 1915. He became the best known ragtime paino player ever. His most popular tune was Shuffle Along in 1921.

He came along way from the bordello in Baltimore, he played with the Boston Pops and Dr. Arthur Fiedler, he performed at the White House. He was a modest man and was always surprised when people knew him and his music. In 1979 there was a musical made about his life, Eubie.

Eubie Blake passed away shortly after celebrating his 100th birhtday in 1983. Some official records list his birthday as February 12, 1883. He is buried at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I hadn't thought about Eubie Blake for a long, long time. Thanks for the reminder.