The BookBrowse Review

Published June 9, 2021

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

Footnotes
The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way
by Caseen Gaines
25 May 2021
352 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks
ISBN-13: 9781492688815
Genre: History, Science & Current Affairs
Critics:
Readers:
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BookBrowse members resident in the USA can request free review copies of books through our First Impressions program. Below are their opinions on one such book...

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Mary B. (St Paul, MN)

Footnotes
I enjoyed this book very much. It is the story of the making of the all-Black Broadway show SHUFFLE ALONG in 1921. It details how Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle, Flournoy Miller, and Aubrey Lyles overcame racism and many other obstacles to be able to bring the show to the stage. The book then follows the lives and pursuits of these individuals, both here and abroad, through the decades of the 20's, 30's 40's and into the 50's. Mr Gaines, the author, did an incredible amount of research to write about the events and people we read about, as evidenced by the massive amount of footnotes and the bibliography. Anyone interested in theater, music or performance of any kind would enjoy this book. The book is rich in historical detail, including the racism, which many years later is still with us.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Melissa S. (Rowland, NC)

Theatrical Black History
"The 1920's were the years of Manhattan's Black Renaissance. It began with Shuffle Along… a honey of a show… swift, bright, funny, rollicking, and gay, with a dozen danceable, singable tunes.." – this quote is how Langston Hughes sums up the revolutionary all black musical that changed the landscape of American theater in the 1920's.

Caseen Gaines' book "Footnotes" dives deep into Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle, Flournoy Miller, and Audrey Liles' all Black musical comedy Shuffle Along. Of course, throughout the development of the musical and achieving unheard of successes throughout most of the country, Gaines weaves theatrical and musical black history throughout the novel. Prior to reading "Footnotes", I had read very little about the black musicians in the U.S. Army during WWI. Gaines gives the full details of exactly how this regimen of brave men were treated by their fellow soldiers vs. their French counterparts. Truly eye opening, to say the least.

I must say I came to Gaines' book knowing absolutely nothing about the beginnings of Black theater and honestly, little about Broadway in general. With Gaines' easy to read style and vivid descriptions I found myself enthralled and rooting for the musical geniuses and their ambitious play. The writers' goal to "educate", while entertaining, the white audience was so very evident. In fact, when Eubie Blake was asked about a night when he overheard a woman make a remark about being at a "Colored show", and her subsequent apology for her remarks, Blake responds, "We had made at least one prejudiced person not of our Race think a little more kindly of the American Colored entertainer." Their earnest eagerness to change the attitudes and prejudices against Black entertainers is palpable throughout the book. Gaines does an outstanding job relaying the facts of life for Black entertainers in 1920's and the work put in by those early pioneers to overcome major obstacles.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Ariel F. (Madison, WI)

A history not well known!
Footnote is the fascinating story of black theatre between 1885-1925. It details the stories of Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake, Flournoy Miller and Audrey Lyles and the trials and tribulations they encountered. These 4 were the writers of the music and lyrics for the musical," Shuffle Along". It was the first black written musical produced on Broadway.

I learned much about the lives and struggled of black performers in the '20s. I had no knowledge about the history of "Shuffle Along".

I feel this would be a good book for book clubs and especially those who are dealing with social justice issues.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Suzette Pierson

Shuffle Along to the Bookstore and Buy This Book
The extent of my knowledge about the history of Broadway is very limited so "Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way" by Caseen Gaines is a revelation. Narrowly, this is the story of “Shuffle Along”, the first all-Black musical to succeed wildly on Broadway in 1921, but Gaines uses the story of the production to journey through history and discuss the pernicious racism in the United States, the service of Black soldiers and musicians in France during World War I, the Harlem Renaissance, and the lives of the performers, musicians, and creators who participated in or had an effect on the musical. Gaines starts his story at the 1921 opening night premier of the musical, with the team of four incredibly talented men, Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake, Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, anxiously waiting to see if white audiences would embrace the musical or start a race war after realizing it broke social taboos. He then travels back to the origins of the collaboration and takes the reader on a rollicking journey of success and heartbreak through the years. While I was familiar with Josephine Baker, Al Jolson, and Langston Hughes, and had heard of Eubie Blake and Paul Robeson, I was unfamiliar with many of the artists and was riveted by their stories, especially James Reese Europe, bandleader extraordinaire who was killed by a crazed drummer, and Florence Mills, beloved comedian, singer, and dancer whose career was launched by “Shuffle Along”. While reading, I was so interested that I found myself searching Google to look for clips of performances by the people discussed by Gaines, and to seek additional information about events or individuals that Gaines could only touch on peripherally. This is a well-researched and well- written history – highly recommended.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Lee M. (Wentzville, MO)

Bright Lights
Great care and attention to detail has gone into this compilation of a defining part of Broadway. Many people think Hamilton was one of the first all Black forays, or at least one of the most important, which tends to nullify the other serious contributions that paved the way. How the duos of Noble Sissle with Eubie Blake and Flournoy Miller with Aubrey Lyles managed to write and act in the dazzling all Black musical, "Shuffle Along," needs to be recognized. I believe "Footnotes" will pave the way and acknowledge all of the stars and contributors to the Great White Way. I understand it would be impossible to see the original "Shuffle Along" as there was no written script, imagine what improvising that must have been, but many theatre lovers would love to see what has survived.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Amy E. (Delaware, OH)

Eubie Blake and who?
From 1921 to 2015 SHUFFLE ALONG made appearances on Broadway and yet I had not heard of the play. I have attended performances of Broadway musicals and played in the pit for many amateur performances, but had never questioned who the predecessors of the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim, etc. were. In his book, Mr. Gaines fills in the blanks with a large chunk of Black History related to the history of Broadway and it's performers.
I liked the book very much as the author made the entertainers real people. The history was there, but it was not just a history lesson.
As a fan of Broadway musicals, I found this book a revelation and highly recommend it.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Melanie B. (Desoto, TX)

Excellent History of Black Artists on Broadway
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and even followed up with references mentioned in the notes section because I was curious to know more about Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake and the original cast of Shuffle Along. The author provided exceptional detail in an interesting, easy to read style. I highly recommend this book to show business fans and those who want to know more about the Black theater experience.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Deb

Engaging
Footnotes appealed to me in that I love narrative non fiction titles. Without much of a music background, I wasn't sure if I would enjoy this title as much I have so many others. Footnotes surely did not disappoint. Following the careers of four black musicians as they broke through the racial barriers on Broadway was a heartbreaking and yet uplifting read.
I would highly recommend it to those who enjoy reading engaging history and to those who wish to examine racial injustice and the impact it had on developing musical careers. I believe it would add some lively conversation to book clubs as well as those studying music. This deserves a spot on your non-fiction shelf.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Scott M. (Columbia, MD)

Footnotes, or how Shuffle Along broke the color barrier of the Great White Way
Written on the centennial anniversary of the premiere of the musical Shuffle Along, this book describes the back story of the men behind the creation of Shuffle Along, how the musical came to revolutionize Broadway and changed the way that audiences viewed African American entertainers and productions.

Throughout this engaging and informative tale, the reader will come to learn about more than just the popular musical. The reader will learn about the start of Jim Crow and its impact on American entertainment during the height of the vaudeville era. This would play a significant role in how Shuffle Along broke the mold in the portrayal of African Americans, showing that they could be more than racial caricatures. The main creators were influenced by stars from vaudeville legend Al Jolson to the legendary Harlem Hellfighter leader James Europe. They, in turn, influenced stars from Jack Benny to Josephine Baker.

Whether you are just an entertainment fan or a student of history, this work will be well worth your time to read.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Gloria

What if?
What would the world of music, dance and theater look like today if Black Americans had been able to showcase their talents on a level playing field with white Americans? That question kept popping into my head as I was reading Caseen Gaines’ excellent “Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way.” Gaines tells the story of “Shuffle Along,” the first all-Black musical to succeed on Broadway, and its creators, musicians Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, and comedians Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles. It’s also a story of how these brave men, and women, faced down blatant racism. There are many examples: Black soldiers were not welcome in the U.S. military during World War I, but were invited to fight beside side-by-side with French soldiers; to please white audiences, Black performers had to further blacken their faces with burnt cork; Black singers weren’t allowed to perform songs that were considered too slow, too romantic or “too white.” Add “Footnotes” to the stack of books that should be required reading for all those who seek to better understand the roots of inequality in this country. And kudos to Gaines for elevating these Black performers and their achievements beyond mere historical “footnotes.”
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Emily C. (Naples, FL)

A Triumphant Story
When I was a high school history teacher back in the 1970's, I created and taught the first Black History course ever offered. One aspect of Black History with which I was unfamiliar was the role of African Americans in music history. For this reason I was interested in digging into Caseen Gaines book FOOTNOTES. I was not disappointed.

Gaines, an author and pop culture expert, has written an engaging and edifying history of the all-Black Broadway musical that changed the world - "Shuffle Along".

Gaines focuses much of the book on the four creators of the 1921 musical - Noble Sissle, Aubrey Lyles, Flourney Miller, and Eubie Blake. These men were tenacious in their efforts to bring Shuffle Along to Broadway theaters in a time when "...even the most well-meaning white folks wanted to hold on to the idea that Blacks weren't educated enough to have been taught how to play; their talent was innate".

Gaines goes into great detail about the historical events that were going on as these four Black musicians worked to bring their work to Broadway: a pandemic, poor economic conditions and a European war. All worked to make their mission even more difficult.

An important lesson to take away from this engaging read is the reality that each generation lives on the shoulders of the giants, like Sisle, Lives, Miller and Blake, who went before them.

FOOTNOTES is a well researched book with an extensive bibliography and 38 pages of instructive footnotes.

The only drawback to the book is the lack of an Index listing the multiple characters portrayed in the book. At times I found myself going back to earlier pages and chapters to clarify the stream of characters and events.

Otherwise, this is a book that adds to the reader's understanding of the times and the characters involved in moving history along.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Nancy K. (Perrysburg, OH)

Read it to learn!
While not my usual type of book to read, I prefer novels, I am glad I read this.
I love going to plays but had never heard of Shuffle Along which is what this book is really about. We are talking about the early 1920's and this was "a musical comedy that happens to be performed by negroes...scarcely a negro show at all." This is what Richard Stokes wrote in his review in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

I was surprised to learn that in the show whenever a "character was indicated as a full- blooded negro, it was necessary to use burnt cork" he wrote. Josephine Baker was added to the cast after a time - what a character! Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake, Flournoy Miller, and Aubrey Lyles were all collaborators on the show. These are names and people we all should know about if we want to know about the beginnings of Broadway. Possessing great talent but because they were black were always fighting an uphill battle.

I am glad that Caseen Gaines wrote this book. It deserves to be read, reviewed by the media and talked about on the radio and TV. These black artists deserve to be better known and appreciated.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Shelley C. (Eastport, NY)

The Folks Who Changed American Theater
In 2016, my husband and I were fortunate enough to see, "Shuffle Along", on Broadway. All of the shows stars were well established Broadway performers and they were the reason why we got tickets. And while we'd heard of Eubie Blake, none of the other people responsible for the 1921 "Shuffle Along, were familiar to us. The show was great!
"Footnotes", the book, examines the contributions made to American theater by Eubie Blake,Noble Sissle, Flournoy Miller, and Aubrey Lyles. Their contributions influenced the musicals of their time and forever changed the complexion of theater casts forever.
While the book was very interesting, especially to frequent theater goers like myself, it read more like a textbook. It especially got bogged down with the telling of the many attempts to revive the original musical; introducing all of the names of the people involved with each attempt. Many of these names were not very recognizable. And even folks like myself, who are familiar with theater history might find these portions tedious. With the exception of the last chapter, I feel the last quarter of the book needed to be pared down.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Antoinette B. (Hilton Head island, SC)

Music breaking barriers
Footnotes by Caseen Gaines is the story of Noble Sissle, Aubrey Lyles, Flourney Miller and Eubie Blake and their musical careers from 1915 to 1952. I had no idea that there was a show on Broadway in the 20s with an all black cast or that originally both white and black performers wore burnt cork commonly known as "Blackface". The racism in the United States only 50 years after the Civil War was rampant in the south but was only mildly better in the north. Many talented black performers emigrated to Europe since they were lauded and considered as equals to whites in France. Even our black soldiers in World War I who were asked to join the infantry and form a band besides were treated so differently on European vs US soil. There is so much unknown history in this book. When Noble Sissle was asked why stay in the US and deal with all of this racism, he responded " We are evangelists. We want to do something for the Negro race to which we belong. ...we compel white audiences to listen to us and if we entertain them...even if one person hears us and thinks better of the colored man than in the past, we have done something that is even better than our salary." Despite all the obstacles, Black performers were capable of exceeding the expectations of whites had of them and overcoming all limitations placed upon them. These four men and Jim Europe, too, launched the careers of many of the twentieth centuries well known black performers.

I found this to be a wonderful history of ragtime, jazz and black theatre on Broadway for both the music buff and for a music history novice. Even though it follows primarily the 4 performers through the years, the reader encounters many other performers whose lives they touched such as Josephine Baker. Besides the musical history, it offers interesting insight into the pervasive racism of the time which unfortunately some of which still occurs today.

After reading this, one must wonder why we have not evolved farther than we have in equality. I recommend it for both of those lessons: Music history and Black History choices. It seems extremely well researched with extensive bibliography and footnotes.

Thank you to Bookbrowse and their First Impressions Program for an ARC of this title.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Vicki R. (York, PA)

Shuffle Along
"Footnotes" by Caseen Gaines is an important account of early twentieth century Black artists and how they were able to break into the New York Broadway scene. It also recounts the struggles to maintain their influence and continue with successful musical performances. This would be a great book for people who want a very in depth look at these artists and their strengths and weaknesses. For just a casual reader, I found it a little drawn out. I really enjoyed the final chapters where Gaines discusses the role "Shuffle Along" has in relation to current cultural issues.

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