Thu Jan 29, 2004 2:16 pm - Eubie Blake
|Interview With Eubie Blake
M.P.- Eubie, could you tell us your reminiscences of the 19th century?
E.B.- Sure. I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the seventh day of February, 1883. My parents were slaves in the state of Virginia, and I'd like to say right now, I hold no malice against that, and I'll tell you why.
My father told me, "Everybody in the world wants to be somebody, and when you owned slaves, you were somebody."
I used to say, "Daddy, I don't like White people."
And he said, "Don't you ever say that again in the house." Kids fight in the street, and I had to pass two White schools to get to my school.
My nickname was Mouse, don't call me Mouse now, and the big fellas used to have boxing, see? We had a fighter by the name of Peter Jackson, a heavyweight, and all the Negro boys that wanted to be boxers wanted to be like Peter Jackson. All the White boys wanted to be like John L. Sullivan. The big fellas showed me how to hit.
They said, "Mouse, don't hit nobody in the face; you hurt your fingers. When the White boys come up to you and say, 'here's Mouse, let's hit Mouse,' as soon as he's coming to you, within arm's length of you, hit him right in the stomach. You got to hit him hard, see?" I could hit good then; I can't hit so well now. They showed me how to double my fists.
Then, they said, "down he goes, and then kick him." I had a pretty bad reputation fighting. I couldn't fight, but I never let anybody hit me first. Many a championship has been lost with that first blow; the guy never got over it, see? That's the way I came up. The people were all right. but the kids in the street fought all the time, about marble games. Guys hurt you while you were playing marbles.
There was a boy named Oakie Ritts, White boy, he was built like Lucky Roberts: great big muscles. There were nine Negroes out on the street playing marbles. I'm in the house. My father is sitting on the steps. This guy walks up and takes all the marbles out of the circle and puts them in his pocket. There are nine of them now, see? One says, you wouldn't take Mouse's marbles. He says "you send for Mouse to come out here; I'll take his marbles."
Now this might not sound like anything to you but a new aggie cost two cents. I had a new aggie for my shooter. And they came down and said, "Hey Mouse, come out." I lived downstairs; I came out and said, "What's the matter?" "Oakie Ritts took our marbles."
Now it's nine guys; I want you to remember that- I want to plant that in your mind. He lived across the street from me. He said, "Put your marble down." So I put my marble down and he reached down to take my marble and I hit him in the stomach because he was bent over. He staggered a little, and somebody said, a big man told me, "Give him a chance."
I gave him a chance, and he shook his head, and that's all I remember. He killed me. I ran to my father, and he bumped me right back out in the street again. I'm taller than he was, but he was one of those chunky guys, see?
"If you're going to fight somebody, and you know you can't whip the guy-" he began.
"He beat me awful," I said. But that's how I got the reputation of fighting so much and being a good fighter; when the people saw me, I was kicking the guy laying down, and they thought the worst thing you could do was hit a man when he's down, see?
But that's what I used to do, because if he ever gets up, I'm gone, cuz I couldn't stand up and fight with those guys. Chick Webb's grandfather and I played together in those days; he could fight. That's all we did together: fight all the time. What's the next question?
M.P.- Had you ever gone down to Virginia where your parents were slaves?
E.B.- I think I went down there once when I was about five years old. It's how come I don't like the country. When I came to the house there was a little garter snake, and when I came up to the steps I stepped on him. I never liked the country since.
M.P.- At the same time your parents were country people.
E.B.- Yeah, when they were slaves. My father would tell me about slavery. And my mother would say, "John." His name was John Sumner Blake. Everybody on that plantation was named Blake. He would go buy a pair of shoes and they'd say, "What's your name?" He'd say, "John Sumner Blake."
He loved that sound. He added that name, see? Even my grandmother was named Blake. My name can't be Blake; that's an Irish name. But we took the name they gave us, see? My father told me what went on.
Some of the master's were bad, but his master happened to be a pretty good man. But my father told me he never had on a pair of leather shoes till the Civil War. He wore carpet shoes. They came to Baltimore and all of their children were born in Baltimore. My father was 19 years older than my mother, and my mother was very proud- and she always said- I love to tell this part of it- he would be telling me about slavery- and then he would take his shirt off and say, "crack walnuts," and he would give them to me.
I was a little kid, only five or six years old; I hadn't gone to school yet. She would say, "John, don't tell him about slavery," and he would say, "Why? I want him to know, but I don't want him to dislike the people."
And when I came in the house once, nose all crusted, black eye, and three White boys, had beaten me up-I had knocked one down but you can't lick three guys, see?- and my father said, "What's the matter, boy?" I said, "Papa, I don't care; I can't like no White people."
And he looked at me about seven or eight seconds; you know, that's a long time- and he said to me, "Never say that to me in my house again."
But whenever my father chided me about anything-, he would tell me why he was chiding me; my mother would knock your brains out. She loved me- but she wouldn't tell you nothing- she'd tell you after she hit you.
He says, "You know, every people are the same; every morsel of food that comes into this house, I get it from the White people- I work for the White people. They don't give us enough.
"They keep us living. This house that we're living in- a four room house, two downstairs, two upstairs- they just tore it down 14 years ago- 14 Eden Street, Baltimore- and a White man was going past on the other side of the street, and he says to me, "Did you ever see that man come down here before?"
I said, "Yes sir."
He asks, "Do you know him?" I say,
"No, sir." He says.
"Did he ever do anything to you?"
I say, "No, sir."
He says, "Do you like him?"
I say, "No, sir,"
He says, "Why?" I says, "Because he's White."
He says, "Think how silly that is; you don't know him, he never done anything to you in your life, and you don't like him just because he's White."
So I said, "Well, those people don't like us."
He says, "Don't you follow what they do."
He told me this, and it's true: "When you don't like a person, as soon as you see them, you tighten up."
And they do. I've gone into the subway, and I've seen people do that. And he taught me never to dislike anybody unless they did something to me. If people never have done anything to me, I like them, and that's what he taught me.
M.P.- Did you have a different sense of yourself because your father was 50 when you were born?
E.B.- No, it never registered on me till I was 24 and my father was 75 years old. There were 11 children before me and none of them ever lived to be more than two months old. The first child I imagine must have been named Johnny, my father's name. When my mother got angry about me with something she would say, "Johnny would have grown up to be a nice boy; you're nothing, you ain't going to grow up to be nothing, always fighting."
I had a terrible reputation for fighting; you'd think I liked to fight. I couldn't fight. Stumps Stanford, Ned Jones and Coots Jones, those guys could fight, but I knew how to hit first; I could hit hard, see? If you hit a guy in the stomach and he doesn't know it, he's bound to fall.
I've hung around boxers all my life but I never put on any boxing gloves ever. But they taught me how to hit with my whole body though. When you want to hit a devastating blow, you use your whole body.
M.P.- As an only child, did you feel a tremendous responsibility as the sole kid in the home?
E.B.- Yeah. Lemme tell you about that. My father would go to work at six o'clock. He would leave the house, and I had an adopted sister, a baby nursing at a bottle, and my father says to me,
"Bully," I says,
He says, "Bully, don't you let nobody come in here and bother these women."
I was about seven or eight years old; I didn't know what he was talking about.
He says, "Anybody come here, you fight him till he's dead. Always take care of your home. You're the only man in the house when I leave."
And I've been that way all my life. He told me that every morning. If I were up at that time he'd tell that to me.
M.P.- Coming from a strong family you must have gotten a good sense of the marriage relationship.
E.B.- Yes. You know in those days, before I was born, I only know what people told me, and what my father told me. When a Negro was going with a girl and they were going to get married, they would get a broom and a preacher and they would jump over the broom. That was a marriage to them.
But my mother and father were really married. And I did have the marriage license, and when my mother died, they took it. When my father died in 1917 I was in New York and all that stuff is gone.
M.P.- When did you start playing professionally?
E.B. - In 1902 with a medicine show. In a medicine show there's a doctor that failed or committed some kind of crime; they threw him out of school but the guy's got to make a living. And he takes out a medicine show.
It's a big furniture wagon. They have the tailgate made high so they pull it down with big chains and hold it. There were five of us and a melodeon. These were the names and I am not making these names up; I don't know of any other names to call them: Slewfoot Nelson, a great piano player and a great dancer and could sing as well as he could dance, Yellow Nelson, no relation, Nellie Bateman, Preston Jackson and myself.
We got three dollars a week, room and board. We went out to Fairfield, Pennsylvania with Doctor Frazier, who was a veterinarian. There was only one Negro in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, and he was deaf and dumb. He had to write down what he said to you. You could talk to him because he was a lipreader; he should have been on a racetrack because that's where those guys are, while the trainer tells the jockey what to do and what not to do. I said to him, how do you know what I say, and he wrote down,
"I'm a lipreader."
And he was one of the best I've ever seen.
When we pulled the tailgate down, that made a stage. The chain was big; it couldn't break. The m.c. did what you call speiling, first showing up with a great big dishpan like a bass drum. They would beat this thing, and the people would come around, and the guys would say, "Here come the rubes" and they would stand around and listen to us.
The m.c. would say, "We've got five darkies here, and the darkies are going to sing and dance for you." We'd sing and dance; I used to dance too; I was a buck dancer. Slewfoot would dance too; all of us could dance.
Preston was my partner. We'd go out on the platform, and when I wasn't dancing or singing, I'd play the melodeon. There'd be steps in between the music. We had no taps or anything but the inside of the tailgate was hard wood and they could hear it. You had to dance to get the raps over. We only played the rural districts; we didn't play the big cities. The horses used to have something they called a heist on the big leg.
You don't see any horses anymore. Doctor Frazier would rub vaseline on the horse first, and then he would dab the medicine on the horse's hip and he'd be telling them this medicine costs a dollar. He would walk the horse around and he'd walk the same as any other horse. The horse didn't need any medicine in the first place. They'd sell it at a dollar a bottle and then move on to another district.
The first place I played at was as a little kid. There was a house, a fine five-dollar house run by a lady named Aggie Shelton. She was an Amazon; she was the biggest woman I've ever seen. She had no fat on at all. She was German, so a fellow named- you wouldn't know him anyway- I can't think of his name- anyhow, his father died and left him a lot of money: $15,000.
What I'm telling you is true stories. Anyhow, he. went on a binge. He sent me up there to play in his place. I had on short pants, see? She said, "Boy, can you play the piano?" I said, " Yes, ma'am." She said, "Everything ragtime?"
And I say, "No I can play the other kind of music."
And I play it. I could read music pretty fair then. So she gave me the job. That woman never paid me the first quarter yet. I'll tell you why she didn't pay me. The time I was off, she was going to bed. So I never saw her. She saw people give me five dollars. Now if I didn't make fifteen or twenty dollars a night...
Now I can't go in the bar room. I would take the guys to the burlesque show, the Monumental Theatre on the corner, ten cents, on Exeter Street; I would take fifteen guys to the theatre and they'd give me a dollar and a half; I can't go anywhere. But it was a very narrow street; colored people lived there.
There were three houses, one of them mine. The Negroes lived in two story houses; the White people in big houses. Well, people from the Church would come down and see my mother.
One of them said, "Sister Blake, I heard somebody playing just like Eubie." They used to call me Little Eubie.
She'd say, "Yes, where?"
They'd say, "Aggie Shelton."
My mother didn't know who Aggie Shelton was; she didn't know about sporting houses.
I have to tell you how I got to Aggie Shelton's. My mother and father slept in the front room; I slept in the back, and there was a shed further in the back. Now, normally, when they went to sleep they died every night; you couldn't wake them up with a cannon.
When my old man dropped the last boot I sad, I'll give him five minutes, he'll be dead, and I'll go cross the street, out the window and go to the poolroom, get a pair of long pants, roll them up, and then go to Aggie Shelton's."
Finally, the preacher's wife, Sister Reed, told my mother she had heard somebody play just like Little Eubie at two o'clock in the morning.
Well, I had gotten those pants from a curbstone comedian, Rob Walker, the kind that would make you laugh out on the street but put him on the stage, he couldn't do nothing, would give me the pants. and that was way past my bedtime at nine o'clock. I'd give him twenty five cents. The pants came up almost to my chin. And then I'd come and play.
So my mother said, "How do you know it was Little Eubie?" She said, "Nobody wobbles the bass like him."
So when I got up the next day my mother called me and she says to me, "You playing in a place called Aggie Shelton's?"
Now this woman has told her what kind of house it was: a sporting house. I call it a house of ill repute, but I'll give it a good name; my wife told me that name.
I said, "Err-uhh-"
I'm getting ready to lie.
She says to me, "Now don't you He to me. You've been up there."
Now this is the summertime, and the lady next door came up, and my mother says, "She's gonna whip you, but I'm gonna kill you."
And this Sister Johns came over the fence and says, "Listen that boy's got talent; he's got to make a living; what he sees in that house, with your background and his father's background, will never rub off on him once he's a little more educated."
She had been a slave too, but she had a little more up above than my mother.
My mother said, "I'll tell your father when your father comes home."
You know, my father would turn the corner at five minutes after six; people used to set their watches by it. On Orleans Street he'd turn that corner, and I used to go up to meet him, but when I was in trouble, I would never go near him.
He came in. "Hi, Am," he'd say to my mother.
"Hi, darling," she'd say.
"What's the matter with him?" he asked.
When she was pleased with me, she would call me Little Wally, or Poor Wally, why I don't know.
She said, "You know what Mr. Blake's doing? Playing in a body house." Not bawdy house.
My father said, "What?"
"Yeah, Sister Reed told me."
He said to me, "How long you been up there?"
I said, "I've been up there about three or four nights."
He said, "What did they pay you?"
Now he only made nine dollars a week, and he was the boss stevedore see?
"I get three dollars a week, but she don't pay me nothing; I don't see her, when company comes in is the only time I see her."
He says, "What you do with the money?" Now I don't want to tell in front of my mother. My mother's busy, see, so he takes me into the next room, and he says, "You make good money up there?"
I says, "Yes sir."
He says, "Where's the money?"
I says, "Under the oilcloth."
We didn't have any carpet. I had over a hundred dollars. Tens and things for playing the piano. And my father says,
"You make all that money; boy?" I says,
"Yes sir." He says, "You didn't steal it?"
I says, "No sir, I didn't steal it."
I says, "The White folks gave me au that money."
He says, "They gave you all that money for playing the piano?"
I says, "Yes sir."
He says, and he's a swell guy, "Well-uhh-I'll straighten it out with your mother; leave it to me. I'd straighten it out."
Which he did- I didn't get any whipping for it, see?
Earlier my mother had asked me, "What do they do up there?"
I told her, "I don't know what they do up there. They come in, people talk."
I didn't mention girls, see? She had sense enough to understand that, so I didn't mention that.
She said. "i told you, you ain't gonna be nothing."
I gave my father ten dollars. You'd play till about three or four o'clock in the morning. You played till the company came in. We didn't belong to any union. If the company stayed there all night, I stayed there all night. It was the same way in a cabaret.
They didn't call them cabarets then; they called them dance halls. People came in and out, in and out, and I knew all the pieces: I knew everything Victor Herbert wrote or Leslie Stuart wrote, all those big writers. I knew all those tunes, see? And I knew the popular tunes; in Aggie Shelton's there were high class men coming in; I had to know all the Broadway songs, and I hadn't been in New York then.
M.P.- Had you a sense of human politics from an this socializing?
E.B. - I'll tell you what my father told me about politics. They had what they called in those days mass meetings. You'd hear- I'll give you a fictitious name- this is Mr. Charles Dewaddie, a scholar and a gentleman, and a politician- and I was a little boy about five or six years old, and my father said, now when you get to be a man, don't believe that. You've got to vote; you vote all the time, but you vote for what you want; don't let them tell you what or whom to automatically vote for.
As soon as you're a politician it auto makes you a stinker. And he was right. That's why they have trouble with their wives; their wives don't want to be there. He told me that when I was a boy.
If a politician tells me today it's Tuesday, I don't believe him. I think it's Wednesday or Friday. I don't believe nothing a politician says nothing, none of them.
I vote all the time. I voted for Carter. You know why? I heard him say he was raised up with a colored boy that was his pal and his mother would slap him as much as she slapped her own son when he was bad. And that was in Georgia, see?
To tell you young people about Georgia- why you can't imagine- why, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi- I was down there when I was conducting the USO Show. It's horrible, they'd do anything to you.
M.P.- Could you tell us about Jesse Pickett and Willie Joseph?
E.B.- A girl I was going with- I won't mention her name- we were sweethearts and I must have been about fourteen years old- gave a lawn party. Now among everybody in my circle nobody could play the piano like me. I was the best in the county and I thought I was the best in the world.
Now there was a guy named Edgar Daw; he convinced me that I wasn't the greatest. At her lawn party, she had a great sycamore tree in the yard. We were an out in the yard, and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. so-and-so had to be passed to leave. Now we. were kids; I never touched her, you understand what I mean- nothing like that.
They asked Edgar Daw to play, and boy, that guy could play. Grrrrp-de-de-rrrrrp-bup-bedabadaboy, that guy could play, and now I got to follow him. So they don't call me Mouse there; they're swell people- they say, "Now we will hear from Master Blake."
Now my pal who lived next door to me named Hoppy Johns, was a trumpet player; he got to be one of the best trumpet players in the state of Maryland; he was in a class with Harry James. He could triple-tongue; I never heard any Negroes play triple tongue, but he could do it, see? He and Roscoe Smith.
Well, the place is crowded with kids and Hoppy goes looking for me, but they can't find me. I'm behind the tree; it was in a comer. Now my girl- 0 God, she was a beautiful brownskinned girl, hair all down her back- I was crazy about her- my girl had her arm around this fellow who was playing, and all the girls were there.
Now that used to be me, see? This guy wiped me right out. They looked in the cellar but they couldn't find me.
Somebody said, "He can't get over the fence; he's gotta he here." So Hop looked behind the tree and found me. He never called me Mouse.
He said, "Come on, Eubie, get over there and play." I said, "No, I'm not going to play." (cries) I'm crying.
He says, "Nobody in the world can beat you playing." I say, "Yes they could; look at my girl hugging this guy and all." He stopped me from playing two months; I did only my music lessons.
In the meantime, he beat Ragtime Manny, the champion. There used to be a guy who ran the Police Gazette who used to go around picking out Negroes who could dance and sing and play, and take them to parties and ragtime concerts. And Ragtime Manny was from Pittsburgh; Jesse beat him in Baltimore. Now Jesse Pickett was a Gentleman of Leisure; you know what that is?
M.P.- Yeah, a pimp.
E.B.- He wore a great big diamond on his chest, a locket with diamonds on both sides, a big diamond ring, watch and chain and everything...he raps on the door.
Well as soon as Mrs. So-And-So saw him at the door, she knew he was a Gentleman of Leisure.
She said, "What do you want?"
He says, "Who was that playing the organ?" She says, "Eubie Blake."
He says, "When he comes out, tell him to go down to the comer bar with a piano in the back."
And that day, he taught me the Dream Rag. You know what key it's in It's in D Flat, C Flat, and E Natural!
M.P.- Well, how old is ragtime if Jesse Pickett was playing it then?
E.B.- Jesse Pickett must have been fifty years old then; I'm only judging; I don't know his age. I never knew him to work in my life. He'd go down to the meadow and play the Dream Rag, and girls would be dancing in their gingham wrappers and all...if they let me put on this show I'd know how to do it.
The closest thing to it was Porgy and Bess, but it's nothing like these girls dancing with these guys. All that stuff, throwing the girls around; we created that. He taught me the Dream Rag in three days, and he used to come every day.
I became a better player than Jesse Pickett, but I wasn't better than Slewfoot Nelson or Bighead Whelper and all of those boys; they could play.
M.P.- But where did ragtime come from?
E.B.- I knew you'd ask me that. Now I'm talking through my hat; I have no license to say what I'm saying, but I imagine- I'm going to say that again; I'm talking through my hat, now; this is me, my idea where it comes from- I heard it ever since I was three or four years old.
I think it comes from the tom-toms in Africa. You know, my teacher in NYU told the class, see, you do this-t-t-t- and you do this-d-d-d- and he gives four or five guys, all White, beating different rhythms- they all got out of time-because we're born with rhythm- it's inborn-where it comes from I don't know. Now every time I go to New Orleans I always have an argument with guys there.
There are fellows about fifty, sixty years old-they say so-and-so started it-but I heard ragtime long before. It comes from the tom-toms. Some tribe is coming and these guys go c-c-c-c-c, a rhythm like that.
M.P.- Did you know Tony Jackson?
E.B.- He's a fella I never saw in my life. It broke my heart when I saw the movie of that White boy; they say he wrote Pretty Baby; I never got to Chicago till 1933; that's why I never saw Tony. I'm wiping tears out of my eyes! That boy wrote words and music, but he couldn't get it published. They thought it was a folk song.
I had the same trouble with Filipino Dance. I thought it was a folk-song, but it was written by a boy who studied in Leipzig. I tried to sell it to Ziegfeld. Ziegfeld would give you $500; Schubert would give you 400.
M.P.- I guess people didn't want to know too much about where anything came from.
E.B.- I'm glad you asked me about ragtime. The people in Norway say it started there. In Baltimore a bigtime Negro would die, belonging to some lodge, Like the Monumental City Soldiers. And they would come up Orleans Street, playing Chopin's Funeral March, that's going up, and when they came back, they would rag it like this; dum-dum-de-dum-deedle-deedle, dum-dum, that's coming back.
I heard this all my lifetime, the same thing in Baltimore as New Orleans, At the Astor Hotel they played the Waltz of the Flowers at one end of the ballroom, and we would pick up whatever they were playing at the other end, the same thing in ragtime.
This was before the First World War. And the people would dance! I claim, and I never heard anybody else say this- I want to get this in before I quit-that rhythm is the most contagious thing in the world. You know why I say so? I'll be playing Memories of You and people in the audience start to move and pat their feet on the floor.
M.P.- The Dream Rag is a combination of a rag and tango. I thought Jelly Roll Morton said he invented that.
E.B.- When I made the record for Columbia, there was a White man and his girl or wife there. I can play before an audience better than I can by myself, although when I practice I work hard, as though I'm going to play on the stage. Now John Hammond knows me backwards, and he says, "Eubie, take a rest; take fifteen minutes."
I say, "Okay."
I'm glad you brought this up. This man says to me, "Mr. Blake, did you know Jelly Roll Morton?"
I said, "Yes, I know him."
He says, "He's a good piano player." I say, "Yes, he's a very good piano player."
He says, "What's the biggest thing he ever wrote?" I says, "Lemme see- Beethoven's Fifth, School bays, and the Prelude in C Sharp Minor."
And this guy is eating it up, see? And his wife looked at me, and she says, "He's pulling your leg."
I say, "And if he wrote those things, I'll name some things I wrote. This guy will tell you he wrote everything. He said he wrote the St. Louis Blues."
Now let me tell you something about Jelly- Jelly came to New York, and he wanted to join the Clef Club. So he gave an audition. Now Jim Europe was living then, and Jim was the president of the Clef Club, the biggest organization in the world for Negroes. They still didn't belong to the Union; a Little before the War they let us in.
They let us in, Jim says to him, and I'm imitating Jim Europe now- Jim was a real ham, and he talked high, you know?
"Ah, son, you're a very nice piano player. Do you read?"
Jelly says, "Do I read? I read so fast the White folks think I'm faking."
The guy actually said that. He said Handy stole the St. Louis Blues from him. His style was slow like James Scott, but he wrote better than Scott. He had a good left hand, a steady bass.
Most White piano players- now I told you color don't mean a darned thing to me- start a tempo and after a while they're playing vivace. Most of them cannot keep the time.
Bill Bolcom said to me, "Eubie, you did more for me about tempi." You could put a metronome in the next room and Fats Waller, James P. Johnson never varied; you could check it.
M.P.- Could you talk about Willie Joseph?
E.B.- Are you going to believe what I tell you?
M.P.- I'll believe anything you tell me.
E.B.- Of all the piano players that I've ever heard he was the best. Willie had just graduated from the Boston Conservatory of Music. At the Commencement they have five pianists. And they played in cubicles. The cubicles were numbered; nobody knows who's playing, see? Now Willie was the color of that piano, as my father was the color of that piano. Black, not brown. According to Willie they had seven judges.
First they asked the audience, who were non-musical, and they applauded. The judges were four concert pianists and three composers, all of them real musicians, and they took the vote, and Willie won it.
So the Dean came out, and he says, "Mr. Josephs, you won it." He played one of the Liszt tough ones. But the Dean says, "But I can't give it to you; if I gave it to you..."
And he wouldn't say any more. Now they did that same thing to Will Cook, the guy who taught me how to conduct, not stamp your foot. He was a violinist but Frederick Stock in Chicago wouldn't give him a job. He took the violin, put it away and never played it again.
Willie Josephs changed his style of playing. He knew what to do with the pedal. He didn't tap his foot on the loud pedal; a lot of people do that.
M.P.- That blurs the sound and tempo.
E.B.- The music runs together. What you played last is still vibrating. You know who was a great pedal man? Leopold Godowsky. Whhhew! God, that man could play.
Artur Rubinstein was another one- all of those fellows could play. Chopin said, take tie pedal off the piano; it ain't worth ten cents. The only one I ever talked to was Artur Rubinstein, and a colored girl got me to him; I never go backstage to see anybody. She's a girl named Frances Coles.
He says, "I know you; your name is Eubie Blake. They say you're a very fine pianist."
I said, "I thought I could play too, but after being at your concert, I don't think so."
He says, "It's a different style. How old are you?"
“I say, "I'm 91 years old." He's waiting for me to ask him, but I don't say anything to him.
He says, "I'm 88 years old; I should call you papa." A little guy, see?
M.P.- Did your sporting house playing give you any religious doubts?
E.B.- I told you, my mother overdid religion. I used to think she was going to lose her mind; a lot of people did lose their minds about religion, see? On Sunday everybody was having a good time but me. Nine o'clock it was Sunday School; eleven o'clock it was preachers. (sings) Jesus Knows About All Our Straggles. I thought, 0 God, if I ever get out of this thing...two o'clock, Sunday School again, four o'clock, P.Y.P.U. I told you, I was Baptist. Seven o'clock, preaching again. All day long, I m in the Sunday School.
Please don't think I'm an infidel; I believe in religion. It must be different now; there must be something there. They would bring you down; everything was down. Always, God's Will and God Will Take Care Of You, and Brother George Died, This And Give Me That, and I said, I don't like this thing. I used to know everything that was in the Bible; You couldn't say anything in the Bible that I didn't know about.
M.P.- Did you ever have a chance to go to the opera in Baltimore?
E.B.- I saw one opera in my life, and I'll tell you why I don't go to the opera. It was Carmen. I didn't know what they were saying. They said, get the book. I learnt to like Firebird; I read the story and the guy was right when he wrote it that way. Lucky Roberts and I were down on the floor where the seats cost five dollars; we can't get upstairs. There were two White women and two White men in back of us. And this guy came out, and conducted this piece with clusters.
And one of the women behind us says, "If they don't stop I'm going to scream murder. That's the damnedest noise I ever heard in my life."
And Lucky says to me, "Eubie, you studied and all; is this music right?"
I said "No, it ain't right."
I'm the cause of Lucky knowing how to read music; I sent him to a teacher, see? Because he could only play in E Major, B Major and F Sharp Major.
M.P.- Quite a few of his pieces are in minor keys.
E.B.- Yeah, but pieces he was supposed to play in D he played in D Flat. They were playing in D with a pedal point in D Flat. And the music is going round and round, and they're playing something here, something here, and over here it was rrrrrhhhhhhhhhhh! You ever hear Iron Foundry?
God, how a man could do that! What are they doing? They're just putting down anything, eh?
M.P.- They were trying to establish a new territory for themselves with major sevenths, minor ninths and clusters. It's like tricks in ragtime.
E.B.- But ours is melodious. Ragtime is the rhythm; the melody is melodious. I wonder how they put down the notes. I studied the Schillingers System, and they have what they call Zigmas; they build a scale and put accidentals anywhere they want to put them. We learned how to read with the eye in that system. I read it, and made a face.
The teacher asked me what's wrong; I didn't want to say anything; he was the teacher. After class I asked Mm to sightread it. You should hear it! It sounded like he said, I'll hit that note- anything.
M.P. - Dictys is like Debussy's L'Isle Joyeuse.
E.B.- I just wrote that to show Stram I could do that. I don't do that all day. You know what it sounds like to me? Cursing .words. I won't ever play it. First thing, it's hard to play. I practice two or three hours a day. I learned how to hold a pen; my teacher showed me how to command the pen.
I hold onto this pen as though it were the last thing I would have in the world. If I lost this pen I couldn't write music anymore. I don't trust anybody to do copying for me, see? Half of the guys are drunk all the time, and they've got my name on it, arranged or written by Eubie Blake and I'm very careful about my name, see?
M.P. - Could you tell us about Willie the Lion Smith?
E.B.- Well, he bragged and all, but he could do what he said he could do. He had some of the darned rhythms of anybody, and I've heard them all from 1920 up to now. He'd play it one time, and you'd never hear that anymore. It looked as though he were looking for things. He'd look at me and he'd go brd-brd-brdp. Where'd that guy get those tricks?
M.P.- How about Art Tatum?
E.B. - You take Art Tatum and put him over there. Then we talk about the other piano players. There was nobody who could play like him. I play in all the keys, and so can Johnny Guanieri, but I can't do all the things I want in A Major. I had a friend in Detroit named Roman Jones. He was very smart with the pen and pencil. We were on one of the rough streets like Pennsylvania and Baltimore.
He said, "Eubie you want to hear some guy play the piano?" I said, "Yeah." God! Tatum played Dvorak's Humoresque. Nobody in the world, even the guy who wrote it, can play it as well as he did! And he was just doodling; he wasn't playing.
He could see you but he'd see you through a scrim. He couldn't walk anywhere by himself; he could see you and me if he were close. I went to the biggest theatre in Detroit.
I said, "I got a piano player- this boy can play- is it all right to put him in my act,just for one performance. I want the people to hear him play. Nobody hears him but murderers and thieves and pickpockets."
Well, I played the same kind of places. Well, he's so ragged, if you give him any money, you've got to put it in his mouth. Roman and I brought him down.
I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have a pianist here. He's very good, but he's blind. Don't have any sympathy for him because he's blind. If he isn't good, don't applaud for him; don't say, well that poor blind fellow."
Now he talked up; he was a real man.
He said, "Mr. Blake, what shall I play?"
He played Tea For Two. He doesn't know how to bow or anything. The house is gone. And I've got to follow this guy. He played several numbers. The time ran out, and I couldn't let him play anymore. But they wouldn't let me go on.
I say, "I don't care how much you hate me; I've got to do my act myself."
That isn't the punchline yet. The manager comes running back.
He says to me,"Does he belong to a Union?"
I say, "I don't think so." He says, "I'll give him 150 a week to start; is that all the clothes he's got?"
I said, "I just met him last week; I don't think he's got any more than what he's got on." He had him playing upstairs in the lobby where the people came in, with a tuxedo, and tails, shoes and everything.
The manager put him in the Union. But Tatum never showed up; he went back where he started. The man has the clothes all fitted for him and everything. The next time l heard him was years later m a bus, on the radio.
I said, "That's Tatum playing."
I met him later on Seventh Avenue in a bar.
He said, "Hi, Mr. Blake; I'm sorry for what I did. I was scared to play there." I said, "You were scared to play there? Did you see that I couldn't get on behind you?"
I met him later and he shook my hand without missing a
M.P. - How would you describe his personality?
E.B. - He liked to drink beer all the time.
M.P. - He sounds as if he lived to play-
E.B. - Let me tell you about Cat-Eye Harry. This is a White boy, around 1902. I was playing in the shops-houses of ill repute-this guy comes in. It looked as if someone had painted his eyes. He was light and tall. This was Cocky Lewis's bar on East Street; it's Rogers Avenue now. This guy comes in, ragged as a hedgehog, for the free lunch. He walks up to the free lunch and starts eating.
So a fellow named Charley Doley, the bartender says, "Hey, what are you doing eating all that food; you ain't bought nothing to drink yet." He says, "Mister, I've been riding the rods."
There are rods that hold the cars together, and when the cars go over the gravel, that's what cuts your overalls; that's why he looked so ragged. It had snowed up to your nose, four or five inches of snow, and he hadn't eaten in a day and a half.
Charley said, "Well, what can you do?" And he said, "Well, l can play the piano." You know, you're a pianist; when your hands are cold, Paderewski can't play. This is a White barroom, and we're Colored; we have to take off our hats. For my Colored audience,
I have to say that I have to use a derogatory word about Negroes. If a new guy came in and don't know this, they would say, "Hey, nigguh, don't you see a White man in here? Take your hat off." Now there was nothing in there but Gentlemen of Leisure. Ignorant? There was not one of them knew anything; all they knew is to have women. Cocky said. "There's nobody here who can read music but Hughie can spell, but he can't read music." But Hughie could play the piano. Cocky went upstairs, and his sister and her husband had fallen out, and left The World's Great Music In Twelve Books. I played two Liszt Rhapsodies for him, the Second and the Twelfth, the hard one. He was White so I had to talk to him nicely.
But Cat-Eye was a pianist; he showed me how to make the triplets in the Liszt. This guy's a concert pianist. One of them tried to show him up.
He said, "Get away from here; I wouldn't show you nothing; you tried to show me up." Then he says, "You know, I can play like the Colored boys play." Now they don't know what to tell him; all they know is Annie Rooney and stuff like that.
He says, "Anything I play, I play it in the right time too." Now The Poet and Peasant Overture was a big number for me. I say, "Can you play Poet and Peasant?"
He says, "Yeah, you want it in ragtime?" and he went yaahhh, bum-bumm-bumm-bwummm-bum. You know when you play it in waltz time, it's tricky. That's the part he romped on. Now the next night Cat-Eye came in- now this may not mean anything to you- with a Nelson overcoat.
They cost two hundred and fifty dollars then. He had great big diamonds, locket, chains, watch. The girls took him ladies of-the-evening shopping, the night before, and he had taken up with a landlady. And I have never seen him since.
I heard later that he was supposed to marry a millionaire's daughter from Minneapolis, and her father didn't want her to marry a musician. And it broke his heart.
He must have picked up a girl on Redburn Street. That's where the bigtime girls were.
M.P. - Could you tell us about James P. Johnson?
E.B.- I remember him in Atlantic City. He had on long pants, but he was young. For three straight nights he came down and sat alongside of me. I was playing The Grotto, the manager was named Mr. Brown. He never pressed anybody behind his bar; he tended to his own bar. He didn't want them to get any hidden money. Now around eight or nine o'clock in the morning I would get tired, and all those famous players, Charley Johnson, Philadelphia Jack The Bear, they're off, and they came down to hear me play. And to get free drinks and girls- these aren't sporting girls, but they're White and Colored. But this night nobody came in and at four o'clock I was tired.
And James P. says to me near the upright piano and he says to me, "Mr. Blake, I'll take you down."
I say, "You play the piano, son?" He says, "Yeah, I play the piano."
You know the first thing he played? Carolina Shout. It had figures in groups of five, allegro.
Old man Brown looks up, because he knows that isn't me playing, and he says, "Eubie, I'll tell you about teaching them boys how to play- that boy can play that thing better than you."
I said, "I didn't teach him that."
He said, "He's only been here three nights; he didn't learn it from me."
Nowadays, I can't play it allegro, as I used to, and he played it vivace. I didn't miss a note. I said, "How long have you been playing?"
He said, "Oh, I'm just learning."
I said, "You already know."
I gave him an introduction to his wife. Boy, that guy could play.
M.P. - What kind of personality did James P. Johnson have?
E.B.- Well, he wasn't as bad as Fats about low-down. But
he liked to slum. I think it was because of association. I never saw Jimmy with a swell woman in my life. All the women I'd see with him were drones; I don't know why he liked them.
He would go past 132nd Street and Fifth Avenue where there were nothing but slums; the houses were big but eight million people lived in one house, you know?
M.P.- Jelly Roll Morton says pianists tended to shift into that kind of life.
E.B. - Well, Jelly was a Gentleman of Leisure too. You call them pimps but I wouldn't use that word.
M.P. - Wasn't there a whole style they had?
E.B.-- Somebody must have told you about that. The big time Gentlemen of Leisure had fine Melton overcoats, and when they sat down they turned their coats up so you could see the beautiful plaid inside. They had diamond rings.
I can tell two groups of people: a Gentleman of Leisure and a gangster. When a Gentleman of Leisure comes in the women bring him in: he stands and poses and he's picking out a woman he can put on the rolls. A gangster comes in quiet. He's got his face to the door all the time.
My wife used to ask me whether l was a gangster because I always sat with my back to the wall. Now the piano players usually sit with their backs to the action because the piano is up front, but they're always watching. Jimmy Greene had a mirror.
People get to fight and throw bottles, they'll do anything, and you're sitting there. I don't know about now; l don't know what they do now, see?
But in a cabaret, when Sam and Joe Blow get to fighting, you play louder, see? You don't get up from that piano. But you got to watch those bottles and things. Now I don't trust anybody, not when I work in those places.
"Where is Jim Jackson?" somebody asks.
"Oh, they caught him dipping on the streetcar," somebody says. You know what dipping is. I've been around thieves, murderers, gamblers. Sissle said I never was with any decent people until I met him.
M.P. - At what point does a piano player get up in a brawl? When the guns are drawn, or what?
E.B.- When they start shooting, I get in back of the piano. I worked at 104th Street and Columbus Avenue, a fine White place. Most fights were with the Irish people, and if you're Irish, I don't make these things up ...
M.P. - I'm not Irish.
E.B. - I would get under the piano sometimes.
M.P. - l guess you have to have presence.
E.B. - Willie the Lion had presence. The Lion played with a derby and would push a guy off the piano; he'd say, "Get off that stool."
I used to warn the Lion he'd run into the wrong guy sometime. You know, Leopold Godowsky didn't have any stage presence; Rachmaninoff didn't have any. I showed you the way Rachmaninoff walked in: collar turned around the wrong way and all of that.
Noble Sissle was a good showman. I met him in 1915. There was a fellow, very handsome; he was a Negro but he looked like an Indian. He had beautiful hair, and he came to Baltimore from Indianapolis to sing.
That's why Cole Porter was so crazy about Noble: Cole Porter was from there. see? Talk about handsome guys-this guy wasn't handsome- he was pretty. I don't like to see a man that way. His wife was jealous.
But he was a real man; he wasn't funny. His wife didn't like it when he went out on the floor and sang. The women went ahhhhhh.
Sissle came late from Indianapolis, and he was late. We were sitting there waiting for him in Riverview Park. That's about an hour on the streetcar. Joe gave everybody but me, and
there were five of us, an introduction to Sissle. I said, "Joe, you named everybody but me."
Joe says, "Pardon me, Noble Sissle, meet Eubie Blake; he's our pianist."
I said, "Sissle- that name rings a bell- did you write a song once?"
He said, "Yeah."
I said, "You write lyrics, don't you?"
He said," Yeah."
I said, "Well, I'm looking for a lyric writer."
We shook hands. That was the 15th day of May, 1915. I had one argument with him in my life. I had eighty billion dollars in my pocket and he wanted to play the Circle Elegant. He had
played every theatre in England. He came up to me, and he
was so happy he had booked it. He liked Europe, and I didn't like Europe, see?
So he said, "Well, I did it."
l said, "What did you do?"
He said, "I booked the United Kingdom all over again."
I said, "Well, you're going to play it all by yourself. I'm going home."
He said, "That's the way you are."
And we argued about fifteen minutes. It was right on the Piccadilly.
He said, "You're crazy," and he walked away from me. That's the only argument Sissle and Blake ever had in our lives.
In 1919 we went in vaudeville. Now please don't think
I'm bragging; they told us that no other act had done what we did.
We played the New Haven circuit four days, then we played three days in the Harlem Opera House, and from there right into the Palace Theatre. They say before us they had to play around the sticks, then come into the Palace Theatre. We had a manager named Pat Casey. Witness and Casey are the only people who weren't Jews that did anything for Sissle and Blake; everybody who's ever done anything for me was a Jew. My own people- I'm going to say that again- my own people never did anything for me. One man. Eddie Myers, maybe.
Of course. when I went to Atlantic City they had to be Colored because they had the places down there: I worked for Colored down there. Do you know about the Negro shuffle, how they're supposed to walk? All this is visual, and at the Palace Theatre they're buying acts -Pat Casey is sitting there now, and how he used to keep a phone I'll never know with the vulgar language he used on it. He's Irish.
"Who wants to buy so-and-so?" He asks.
People buy them and run the scale up. Three hundred dollars a week; that's all we ever got. Now I'm not talking about anybody
else but Sissle and Blake. That's what we got. Big acts like Bill Ross and Moss and Fry, I don't know what they got. We were supposed to get some grotesque clothes, and they had an upright piano on the stage, and we would come in, shuffling.
I'm the piano player- listen to how ridiculous this is- I say to Sissle, "Hey, Noble, war is dat over deah?"
He says, "Ah don' know what it is."
And I go over there and touch the piano and say, "0, dats a pi-ana." Then I sit down and play it.
And we're in cork, you know. You had to wear cork. Now
everybody was afraid of the Shuberts in 1919 because they
had a franchise on all the theatres.
Casey said, "That's what you want, Sissle and Blake?"
And they said, "0 yeah, they'll be funny all right."
Casey says, "How many agents were at the Harlem Opera House last week?"
Schubert said, "All of them."
Casey said, "Well, that's the way you're going to see Sissle and Blake if you buy them. You're going to see them on the stage with tuxedos, and they don't talk dat way. Sissle is a college graduate; how many of you went to college? He graduated from two different colleges."
We didn't do it; we never did that. We went on stage with tuxedos, patent leather shoes and we talked just as you and I are talking now. Pat Casey cussed them out.
I didn't write down when I wrote Shuffle Along either. Miller and Miles were black-faced comedians. They wore grotesque clothes. Everybody else on the stage was educated but they played it as though they were ignorant. They were both two college boys.
M.P.- Could you tell us something about James Reece Europe?
E.B.- James Reece Europe was the most brainy musician I knew. think Paderewski was in his class. He was a very brilliant man. He taught me tricks that I never knew about. We played at all the big hotels, like the Astor. We didn't belong to the Union; they let us play with them in the same hall.
You see how I said let? That's in the North here, right here in New York. When the big musicals would come in Jim would
buy the book for two dollars and a half, score, libretto and everything-you're a musician; it's going to be hard for you to believe this- now fifteen or twenty men are standing
around and Carpenter was a very good sightreader. The guys are looking at the piano score- no arrangement.
Jim said, "Hey, Eubie, you got them playing?"
I say, "We've got one chorus or a verse or so; we've got that down."
These guys are sharks. Everybody in there was a better musician than I because I hadn't gone to school yet to learn. This is one point I want to put over to you. In those days, we didn't let the publisher know we could read music. We'd go down and get his scores. Everybody in there could read music. The White people never saw us read it. On stage, we'd play the music, and the White people in the audience would be saying, "Isn't that marvelous? Those Colored boys, they don't read a note."
We had William Grant Still, Hall Johnson, college-bred men musically. If we can read music, we're coming too close to the White man. When I wrote Fizzwater and Chevy Chase, they sent for Savino to take it down for me. Actually I couldn't write music well till 1915 but I could read music since I was six years old. We never told the White people we could do it.
It's not that we tried to hide it originally. But if I don't like you, I'm so big, I don't see what you are from my side of it. I
say, "You're nothing, how did you learn how to play?" And there were so many guys who couldn't read, but they could play. I'm glad you asked me this. These young Negroes, they call Sissle and Blake Uncle Toms. When we would get the scores I would rehearse the bands. Jim Europe never did anything; he'd go around with girls all day long. We were in theatres and the toughest thing to remember was what we called the guts: the harmony. We had saxes then; it was just the beginning of saxes. We'd take the violin, the saxes, the brass away, everything but the drummer. I never write for a drummer; I just leave him the number of bars. And they knew it by memory. We never said, "Yassah." We played everywhere. That was before the war- when I talk about the
War, I mean the First World War.
When we went to play in Chicago we played Chocolate Dandies, a tough score; there were five men who wrote Broadway shows, and Fredrick Stock was there. They were Austrians, and they spoke
German and Italian too.
They said to Stock, "They can't read music."
He said to them in English, "I'll explain it to you."
He knew damned well- excuse me- darned well, that to play
those things and to play it right, we had to be good readers. We had the darndest arrangers too. Nobody could think of
M.P. - Yet five or six years later Fletcher Henderson openly
said that everybody read in his band.
E.B.- We planted the seeds for him. And only a couple of
people said we were Uncle Toms. I thought of my father.
You know, the 15th of May my father would ask my mother
where his buttons were. He'd take vinegar, salt and oatmeal and shine the buttons on his uniform for the 30th of May.
The first time I ever saw my father cry, he came home, and said as he always did, "Hi Em," but the tears are coming out of his eyes.
Some guy on the street said, "Look at Mouse's father; he's a tin soldier." He said, "I'm the one who fought so they would vote and do what they want, and they call me tin soldier." They call us Uncle Toms, but we paved the way. I've got to tell this: Jack Johnson committed an unpardonable crime in America. The people will know what I mean-
M.P. - He married a White woman.
E.B. - What he did I think every man has a right to do. You have no business about my private life. But the guys who make the law, they say it can't be that way. Miller and Miles, Sissle and Blake, put Negroes back on Broadway, so much so that Buck and Stamper wrote a song called Broadway's Getting Darker Every Day. They used to be in burlesque shows and everything till they clamped down on them: when our show was such a tremendous hit, everybody changed.
You know, I only wrote three songs for Shuffle Along? All
the rest I had. I won't be like Old Man Handy: I did this, I did that-we had. Bandanna Days, If You've Never Been Vamped By A Brownskin, and Love Will Find A Way. They were just starting to write Negroid songs then: Irv Berlin started them. We were the first Negroes to write a Broadway show and it played.
Lyles said, we've got to have a love song in this show. He was the kind of guy, if you told him there's a bunch of rattlesnakes in there; they'll bite you, he'd say, I don't believe it. He'll put his hand right in there; he's that kind of a guy.
Sissle says, "We can't have any love song in here."
Lyles says, "They can't kill us." You couldn't frighten him with anything. Sissle says, "The White people'Il walk out on you."
Lyles says, "Let's try it anyhow."
Lyles says, "I'll give you a title: Love Will Find A Way."
He meant, we'll find some way to get it in. We played out in Long Island in some town where a lot of gangsters lived. Coming home, I always carried a manuscript in my pocket, and one night I wrote the chorus. I had no lyrics. I wrote the whole thing in 25 minutes on the way to Pennsylvania Station. I played it for Sissle later.
He said, "Gee, Eubie, that's beautiful." He wrote the chorus
first, then the verse. We played it for Old Man Court. We
played it as the second number in the whole routine.
Sissle was no heck of a singer, but there was something about his voice that people liked. When he sang a song, you could see what he was talking about.
Old Man Court said, "That's enough boys." We all thought he was going to run out of the theatre. He sent for Sissle and me. We went to his office. He says, "You only write one song now for Broadway; the rest are ditties, so if you've got another song to compare with that, you've got it."
Boy, you talk about taking a load off a man's shoulders! We were scared to death. I want you to know these things.
M.P.- Blues were okay though.
E.B.- Yeah, but not on the Broadway stage- in the cabaret. It'd be I lost my gal last night and I'm tired of praying to the Lawd. They wanted you to do things like that.
I wrote that way because when Jim Europe played for the
millionaires, we didn't do blues; we did the hits from the Broadway shows. So I wrote that way.
The masses wanted to hear, I lost my gal las'night. But
Leslie Stuart, the operetta composer, was my inspiration. I never saw him, he died and never heard of me. In 1900 he
wrote a show Floradora. (sings) 0 Tell Me Pretty Maiden,
Are Anyone At Home Like You? and 0 My Dolores, The Eastern Star. (talks) I said, "0 God, that's a beautiful melody." And I said, "I can write like that; l can do that."
I never did write Negroid songs. And Sissle wasn't a good writer for that either; his mind didn't go that way. Sissle would write songs about love that would make you cry. Because that was his life-
M.P. - He had a difficult time in his marriage?
E.B. - (laughs) 0 God, let's not bring it up; it was awful.
M.P. - So you wrote three or four shows-
E.B. - I'll name them for you. Shuffle Along, 1921; Chocolate Dandies, 1924; Elsie, 1924- that was a White show. There was not one Negro in there. I wrote the same kind of music, but I had some syncopated dance numbers in there; I wrote it as a White man would have written it: Jingle Steps. Then I wrote Little Restless Blackbirds, 1930. Then I wrote Bandannaland. Then I wrote another Shuffle Along; that's the flop I don't tell anybody about.
M.P.- During the 1920s you used to play at the homes of the rich.
E.B. - They know they're tops! I wonder whether you get
what I'm saying.
M.P. - It's good to know.
E.B. - You've got to. Martin Luther King did more to wake the people up that they are human beings than anyone; that's why I love him in his grave. I can't say enough about him. You hear about Lincoln" My father told me to respect Lincoln. You i¢now why he set free the slaves. Because in the North the Negroes got paid. My father told me, respect him, regardless why he did it, he did it, but he didn't have the Negroes at heart. It was the dollar going into the White man's pocket.
That's why I say- and I want this to go on record- l have more right to this country than the White man that came over here, because my father worked to till the land and never got a nickel for it.
I'm an offspring of the slave. These Negroes going to college now, they don't think about that. People talk about their sons giving their life for their country; their son went to war and got killed. But Martin Luther King knew he was going to die, one of his own people started it when she stabbed him on 125th Street, but he would not stop. People don't know what a risk is.
M.P. - How do you feel about living in Bed-Stuy now?
E.B.- The South all came up here. When I went to Boston in 1919 I could go into any bar in Massachusetts. Now they don't want to ride on the bus with us. In the South if they caught you eyeballing some White girl, they'd kill you, give somebody three years, and he wouldn't do two months.
Now I'm going to tell you a gag. A White girl is coming up the street, and a palsied 90 year old White man and a Negro are coming the other way.
He says to the Negro, "l caught you; I caught you."
He says, "I never said anything to that lady."
He says, "No, but I caught you thinking."
That's the way it was. I wouldn't marry out of my race.
M.P.- I've heard Black people tell me they prefer it down
South where they know what to expect, than not knowing
from moment to moment how badly or pleasantly people
will react to color. Isn't the North confusing? Instead of consistently mean?
E.B. - This is another gag, but it's a true gag. A man is suspicious of his wife, so he gets a mouse, puts the mouse in a shoebox, and leaves a few holes in there. He says, darling, I'm going out: I'll be gone about two weeks.
Whatever you do, don't open that box. Don't touch it; leave it there. Just put little crumbs in it. He goes to a bar, comes back an hour later and looks for the mouse where he left it on the mantlepiece; the mouse is gone. He says, you opened that box.
She says, yes, a mouse came out. Now, the more you say, don't do something, you create curiosity. That's what the White man has done. A woman is a woman to me, if she's green, blue,
any color. People are like that to me.
I hold no malice; honest to God I don't. People say to me White people can't play ragtime. I know they can play ragtime. They said we couldn't play baseball either.
M.P.- Aren't Black people of enterprise and competence attracted to fields where racism cannot occur because enterprise and competence is everything-like sports and music?
E.B.- Of course. Why would Nature hold you down and stop you from playing ragtime because you're White? Why would Nature stop me from playing classical music because I'm Black? Nature doesn't work that way. Talent goes to anybody it goes to.
M.P. - Wasn't Al Jolson a friend of yours?
E.B. - He was a personal friend of mine. When I say personal, I mean personal- l used to go to fights with him all the time. We used to watch Benny Leonard, one of the best lightweights we ever had. I knew his brother too; he was a gangster. They were fighting down at 135th Street and Madison Avenue. Jolson comes down the street.
He says, "Hey Eubie, you going to the fight?"
I says, "No."
He says, "l got two tickets."
I say, "I'll go, but I'll catch you."
You know why I wasn't going? Because on the way he would be stopping in every bar and buying a drink for somebody. Well I got fifteen dollars, what you call, don't go money. You can't spend this money.
Now Sissle and Blake was no smalltime act; we were bigshots ourselves, but we don't rank with Jolson. So, Benny Leonard knocked this guy out in the first round- didn't knock him out, killed him with one blow.
Jolson comes back and says to me, "No wonder you didn't want to go; you didn't want that Jew to knock out that Spade, did you?"
He'd go over and drink in the bar that Dempsey had later.
You can't go drinking with that guy. A guy like that, he
made more money in one night than Caruso. I worked with
him that night; he made $3,500 in one night, playing two
theatres, one in the Bronx.
One time Sissle was out of the army, and somebody stole all of his clothes and he had no overcoat; he wore his lieutenant's coat with the epaulets off.
We were in Hartford, and we go to a dump, a greasy spoon. The guy looks at us, and says, "What can I do for you fellows?"
Sissle says, "I think I'll take a cup of tea and a doughnut."
He says, "You do, heh? Well, put both of you together and you won't get anything from me; we don't allow your kind to 'eat in here."
There were three people sitting around. This Bolshevik, this Jewish fellow, comes out and meets us, and says, "What's your name." I say, "Why?" He says, "I'm a newspaper man." I say,
"My name is Eubie Blake and he's Noble Sissle." He says, "Sissle and Blake?"
Now he put us down, and never was in the war, and I never had any kind of uniform on in my life, and he says, "Lieutenants Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake were turned down in a greasy spoon."
Now Jolson is playing up the street in Sinbad. I didn't know he was there. And after we do our show, a chauffeur comes down to see us.
The chauffeur says, "Mr. Blake, Mr. Jolson wants to see you."
Later he says, "Hey, Eubie, did they throw you out of that dump? I heard all about it."
It went all over the world you know, all over the civilized world. We got more publicity out of that-
M.P. - It was worth getting thrown out.
E.B.- (laughs) Jolson said, "You and Sissle go with me tonight, and we'll have a couple of girls with us."
And I said, "No, I'm not going." When he got out of the theatre, I told Jolson no. I said, "If a rabbit bites you-and rabbits don't bite-that's the rabbit's fault. If you go back and let that same rabbit bite you agai
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