Ragtime music, with its syncopated, polyrhythmic style, was born, in the 1890s in the black saloons and brothels of southern and mid-western cities like Baltimore and St. Louis. It was at the center of American popular music from the end of the nineteenth century until the 1920s. One of the most enduring ragtime pianists was Eubie Blake, who took that music well into the 1980’s.
Eubie Blake was one of the most important figures in early-20th-century African-American music, and one whose longevity made him a storehouse of the history of ragtime and early jazz music and culture.
Born in Baltimore in 1883, Blake began playing piano professionally when he was 16; he wrote his first composition, Sounds of Africa, (later retitled Charleston Rag) around the same time. His career did not really take off until he met Noble Sissle in 1915. Together, Blake and Sissle wrote many hits. Blake also collaborated with Andy Razaf (on Memories of You), Henry Creamer, and other writers, composing more than 350 songs.
Blake, Sissle, and James Reese Europe began collaborating on the musical ‘Shuffle Along’ in 1916, but were interrupted by World War I and Sissle and Europe's military service overseas. Europe and Sissle returned to the United States in 1919. Europe died shortly after returning from Europe; Blake and Sissle continued working on the musical until its premiere in 1921.