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Noble Sissle was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on July 10, 1889. His early interest in music came from his father, a minister and organist. The Sissles moved to Cleveland when Noble was 17, and in 1908, before graduating from high school, he joined a male quartet for a four-week run of the Midwest vaudeville circuit. After graduating, he joined a gospel quartet for a tour on the same circuit.

1. Riding the wave of new interest in black entertainers brought on by the success of James Reese Europe, Sissle was asked to organize his own orchestra, which he led at ndianapolis's Severin Hotel. In 1915, he left the city for Baltimore.

Sissle and Blake became songwriting partners in 1915 after they met as members of Joe Porter's Serenaders. Their first song was It's All Your Fault. They got some help in writing it from their friend Eddie Nelson and decided to try it out on Sophie Tucker, who was known to be interested in promoting black songwriters. Tucker liked the song so much that she had arrangements made and used it in her act the night after she heard it. It's All Your Fault was published in Baltimore, and the partners made $200.

For a while, Sissle and Blake performed separately. In 1916, Sissle was invited to work for James Reese Europe in his Clef Club, and within three or four months, he was leading his own group within the organization. The summer of that year, Blake rejoined him.

When war broke out in 1917, Sissle enlisted with Europe and helped him recruit members for the military band he was forming. Blake, too old for military service at 35, stayed stateside, putting music to songs they sent back. When the armistice was signed, Europe and Sissle returned, and the three hoped to work together to bring African-American theatrical shows back to Broadway. It all came to an abrupt end when Europe was killed by a band member.

After Europe's death, Sissle and Blake were encouraged by his manager and the backers of the band to enter the white vaudeville circuit. There were very few black performers besides Sissle and Blake on what was known as the Keith circuit, and never more than one act at the same venue because only one African-American act was included in each show. Sissle and Blake, who billed themselves as "The Dixie Duo," were eventually highly successful. Patterned after their Clef Club presentations, their act was preformed without blackface and with an on-stage piano as their only prop. Their many hit songs in vaudeville included Gee, I'm Glad I'm From Dixie, their opening number.

Sissle and Blake met the men with whom they were to make history at a NAACP benefit in Philadelphia in 1920. Flournoy E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles were veterans in black show business who had written and starred in productions since 1910. Miller believed that the only way African-American performers would make it back into white theaters with any dignity was through musical comedy, and after Sissle and Blake's performance, he and Lyles approach the pair to ask if they would be interested in teaming together for such a production. Sissle and Blake, who saw this as a way to achieve Europe's dream as well as their own, agreed. So the four men put together their resources and set about to write, direct, manage and star in their own musical comedy.

Shuffle Along was patterned after the African-American shows presented during the first few years of the century, and when a casting call was issued, a number of performers from those early shows turned out. The partners found a backer, and after a shaky road show tour, Shuffle Along opened in New York on May 23, 1921.

Though many barriers to the free expression of African-American creativity had been broken down by this time, a very important taboo remained: romantic love between black characters was never shown on stage. According to James Weldon Johnson, who had confronted the same problem at the turn of the century, "If anything approaching a love duet was introduced in a musical comedy, it had to be broadly burlesqued. The reason behind this...lay in the belief that a love scene between two Negroes could not strike a white audience except as ridiculous."

When the romantic song Love Will Find A Way premiered, Blake was on stage playing piano for the actors, but his partners were at the stage door ready to flee if the theater



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