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Ragtime Rover
Happy Birthday Eubie Blake

Even the New York Times bought into Eubie’s white lie: “Five days after his 100th birthday was celebrated with gala performances of his music,” the paper reported on February 13, 1983, “Eubie Blake, the composer and pianist whose career covered a span from the ragtime era in the 19th century to the contemporary Broadway theater a year ago, died yesterday at his home in Brooklyn.” I don’t know if Wikipedia’s reliability should have precedence over that of the Times (Gore Vidal would say absolutely it should, and often enough I have to agree: Wikipedia did not mislead us into war on the Judith Miller-Ahmad Chalabi bandwagon), but the great encyclopedia, relying on the work of Peter Hanley, has it that Eubie set his birth year back five years, although his “1917 World War I draft registration, 1920 passport application, and 1936 Social Security application” all cite 1887 as the birth year. But back-dating among jazz musicians was an old habit back then: the great Jelly Roll Morton, too, put himself five years back “to give himself an earlier entry into the New Orleans jazz scene,” Hanley writes. All the same: today, February 7, is Eubie Blake’s birthday, and the man should be celebrated. He would have been either 124 years old or 119. I’ve scrounged up a couple of items. The first is his own composition, “The Charleston Rag,” performed by William Albright, from an old 1982 LP of mine by the Musical Heritage Society, likely out of print, called “Sweet Sixteenths: A Ragtime Concert.” The piece should have you zapping out of your seat and playing the imaginary piano (or dancing with your cubby neighbor) three bars in. Eubie only rates one piece on the album (others include Joplin of course, Joseph Lamb, Clarence Woods, and William Albright). The second piece features Eubie Blake himself—speaking, explaining and discoursing, not playing. It’s a piece called “The School of Ragtime,” it’s by Scott Joplin, and Eubie tells you what he thinks of it in his wonderfully raggety voice. Here they are in mp3 format:

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