BookBrowse Reviews When Broadway Was Black by Caseen Gaines

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When Broadway Was Black

The Triumphant Story of the All-Black Musical that Changed the World (aka Footnotes)

by Caseen Gaines

When Broadway Was Black by Caseen Gaines X
When Broadway Was Black by Caseen Gaines
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2021, 352 pages

    Feb 2023, 352 pages


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About this Book



A comprehensive history of the creators, performers and production of the first major all-Black Broadway production, Shuffle Along.

Our First Impressions readers were thrilled to learn about a hidden gem of Broadway history through Caseen Gaines's impressive When Broadway Was Black, giving the book an average score of 4.6 out of 5 stars.

When first published in hardcover in 2021, this book was titled Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way. In paperback, it was renamed, When Broadway Was Black: The Triumphant Story of the All-Black Musical that Changed the World. The reviews below were written ahead of the hardcover edition being published, and thus refer to Footnotes.

What it's about.

Published on the centennial anniversary of the premiere of Shuffle Along, this book describes the backstory of the men behind the creation of the musical, and how it revolutionized Broadway and changed the way that audiences viewed Black entertainers and productions. Throughout this engaging and informative tale, 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 Black Americans, showing that they could be more than racial caricatures (Scott M).

Our First Impressions readers were enthralled by this story they had never heard before.

From 1921 to 2015 Shuffle Along made appearances on Broadway and yet I had not heard of it. 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 this book, Mr. Gaines fills in the blanks with a large chunk of Black history and the history of Broadway (Amy E). 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 other artists. While reading, I was so interested that I found myself searching for clips of performances by the people discussed. This is a well-researched and well-written history – highly recommended (Suzette P). Prior to reading Footnotes, I had read very little about the Black musicians in the U.S. Army during World War I. I came to Gaines's book knowing absolutely nothing about the beginnings of Black theater and honestly, little about Broadway in general. With his easy-to-read style and vivid descriptions, I found myself enthralled and rooting for the musical geniuses and their ambitious play (Melissa S).

Some readers appreciated gaining insight into the racial injustice in the entertainment industry and beyond from Footnotes

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 (Gloria F).  Gaines does an outstanding job relaying the facts of life for Black entertainers in 1920s and the work put in by those early pioneers to overcome major obstacles (Melissa S). Besides the musical history, it offers interesting insight into the pervasive racism of the time, some of which still occurs today (Antoinette B).

Though the book focuses predominantly on Shuffle Along, readers felt they gained a vast musical history lesson.

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 (Deborah H). I found this to be a wonderful history of ragtime, jazz and Black theater on Broadway for both the music buff and the music history novice. Even though it primarily follows the four performers through the years, the reader encounters many others whose lives they touched, such as Josephine Baker (Antoinette B). Whether you are just an entertainment fan or a student of history, this work will be well worth your time to read (Scott M).

Footnotes is highly recommended, particularly for book clubs.

I feel this would be a good book for book clubs and especially those who enjoy reading about social justice issues (Ariel F). I am glad that Caseen Gaines wrote this book. It should be read, reviewed by the media and talked about on the radio and TV. These Black artists deserve to be better known and appreciated (Nancy Kelley). 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. This deserves a spot on your nonfiction shelf (Deborah H). I liked the book very much, as the author made the entertainers come alive. 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 (Amy E).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2021, and has been updated for the March 2023 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle


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