James Hubert "Eubie" Blake (February 7, 1887 - February 12, 1983) was a composer and pianist of ragtime, jazz, and popular music, as well as a lyricist. With his long time collaborator Noble Sissle, Blake wrote the Broadway musical Shuffle Along in 1921; this was the first Broadway musical ever to be written and directed by African Americans. Blake's hit compositions included "Bandana Days", "Charleston Rag", "Love Will Find A Way", "Memories of You", and "I'm Just Wild About Harry". In 1978, the musical Eubie! opened on Broadway.
He was born as "James Hubert Blake" at 319 Forest Street in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 7, 1887, to Emma (1861-1927) and John Blake (1838-1917). Both parents were former slaves. He had seven siblings and all had died as infants; he was the only child that lived. In 1894 the family moved to 414 North Eden Street, then to 1510 Jefferson Street. John Blake worked as a stevedore, making nine dollars a week.
Blake's musical training began when he was just four or five years old. While out shopping with his mother, he wandered into a music store, climbed on the bench of an organ, and started "foolin’" around. When his mother found him, the manager of the store told her, "The child is a genius! It would be criminal to deprive him of the chance to make use of such a sublime, God-given talent." The Blakes bought a $75 pump organ paying 25 cents a week. When he was seven, Eubie received music lessons from their next-door neighbor, Margaret Marshall, an organist from the Methodist church. At the age of fifteen, without his parents' knowledge, he played piano at Aggie Shelton’s Baltimore bordello.
Eubie said he first composed the melody to the "Charleston Rag" in 1899 (which would have made him 12 years old if he was born in 1887), but he did not commit it to paper until 1915, when he learned how to write musical notation.
In July of 1910 Eubie married Avis Elizabeth Cecelia Lee (1881-1938), proposing to her in a chauffeur-driven car he had hired. Eubie and Avis had met around 1895 while they were both attending Primary School No. 2 at 200 East Street in Baltimore. In 1910 Eubie brought Avis to Atlantic City, New Jersey, when he was working at the Boathouse nightclub. In 1938 Avis was diagnosed with tuberculosis and died that year at the age of 58. Eubie said: "In my life I never knew what it was to be alone. At first when Avis got sick, I thought she just had a cold, but when time passed and she didn’t get better, I made her go to a doctor and we found out she had TB ... I suppose I knew from when we found out she had the TB, I understood that it was just a matter of time."
Blake continued to play and record until shortly before what everyone thought was his 100th birthday. He uttered the memorable quote, "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself." He died in 1983 in Brooklyn just 5 days after celebrating his "100th" birthday, even though he was just 96 years old. He was interred in the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
In later years Eubie listed his birth year as "1883" and his 100th birthday was celebrated in 1983. Most sources including Encyclopædia Britannica incorrectly list his birth year as "1883". Every official document issued by the government lists his birthday as "February 7, 1887". This includes the 1900 Census, his 1917 World War I draft registration, 1920 passport application, and 1936 Social Security application. Peter Hanley writes: "In the final analysis, however, the fact that he was only ninety-six years of age and not one hundred when he died cannot detract, in any way, from his extraordinary achievements. He will always remain among the finest popular composers and songwriters of his era."
In 1995 Eubie Blake was honored with a United States postage stamp. James Hubert Blake High School was built in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1998. He was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.