By Michael Baadke
Eubie Blake, the popular 20th century musician and composer, was born James Hubert Blake on Feb. 7, 1887 — often reported as 1883 — in Baltimore, Md., the son of former slaves.
He was introduced to music at a young age, first playing a pump organ at home, and then performing on piano professionally. He met composer Noble Sissle in 1915, and the two collaborated on the musical Shuffle Along, which premiered in 1921 and included the popular songs I’m Just Wild About Harry and Love Will Find a Way.
Blake played ragtime and jazz along with popular music, and continued to contribute to Broadway musicals for many years, including Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1930. During World War II, he entertained the troops at USO shows.
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Blake continued to perform and compose, and he enjoyed a revival in popularity in the 1970s when ragtime music returned to the public’s attention. A 1979 Broadway musical revue starring Gregory Hines, Eubie, featured many of his most popular songs.
Blake was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan.
Eubie Blake died Feb. 12, 1983. A 32¢ stamp honoring him was issued Sept. 16, 1995, in the Jazz Composers set of the American Music commemorative series (Scott 2988).