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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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  • First Published:
    May 2021, 352 pages

    Feb 2023, 352 pages


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There are currently 15 reader reviews for When Broadway Was Black
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Mary B. (St Paul, MN)

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Power Reviewer
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.
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.

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.
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Beyond the Book:
  Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle

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