Book: WHEN BROADWAY WAS BLACK: THE TRIUMPHANT STORY OF THE ALL-BLACK MUSICAL THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (Out in Paperback February 7, 2023)

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by Lamont Williams on July 19, 2022

in Books,Theater-New York

I’M JUST WILD ABOUT WHEN BROADWAY WAS BLACK

On May 23, 1921, a fast-moving, groundbreaking jazz musical danced into New York City – and by the end of its triumphant run, its Black creators were responsible for the most unlikely entertainment success story of the 1920s, a watershed moment for racial representation in America.

With the curtain rising against the backdrop of widespread racial discrimination and a theater industry struggling to rebound after a global pandemic, Shuffle Along challenged social norms and defied the odds to become the first Broadway musical with an all-Black cast and creative team to become a phenomenon.

No one was sure if America was ready for thoughtful portrayals of Black characters. There were threats of a race riot on opening night – and the fallout could have been deadly. But from the first jazzy, syncopated beats of composers Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, Manhattan audiences fell head over heels.

Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, c. 1920.

Shuffle Along was one of the longest running, and most profitable, shows of the season. It changed traffic patterns in midtown and stimulated the nightlife uptown. It led to Josephine Baker becoming an international star, and one its songs, “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” helped reelect the President of the United States.

In When Broadway Was Black: The Triumphant Story of the All-Black Musical that Changed the Worldauthor Caseen Gaines tells the captivating story of Sissle and Blake, along with comedians Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, who caught lightning in a bottle to kickstart the Harlem Renaissance and change perceptions, one performance at a time, while opening doors for generations of artists of color to run through – a timely story of sacrifice, setbacks, and successes along the road to the American Dream.

When Broadway Was Black (previously published as Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way in hardcover) will be published in paperback on February 7, 2023, Eubie Blake’s birthday, by Sourcebooks. Pre-order on Amazon here.

Praise for Footnotes

Shuffle Along was the first of its kind when the piece arrived on Broadway. This musical introduced Black excellence to the Great White Way. Broadway was forever changed and we, who stand on the shoulders of our brilliant ancestors, are charged with the very often elusive task of carrying that torch into our present. I am humbled to have been part of the short-lived 2016 historical telling of how far we’ve come, starring as Aubrey Lyles in Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed—and happy that Footnotes further secures his place in history.”— Billy Porter, Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning actor

“What a gift! Footnotes is beautifully written, with Caseen Gaines telling a story that is absolutely vital to both the past and future of the theater.” — Rachel Chavkin, Tony Award-winning director of Hadestown

“Florence Mills, Gertrude Saunders, Lottie Gee, Josephine Baker—these are just a few of the women’s shoulders on which I stand. Before joining George C. Wolfe’s Black Broadway “Justice League” in Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, I knew nothing of Shuffle Along, its creators, nor the scope of the immaculate talent that ascended from its company. Shuffle Along will always be another example of rich history within the Black community, more specifically the Black artistic community, that is so often lost, erased, and forgotten. Learning about this show and performing in the 2016 Broadway production was life changing in more ways than one. More importantly, it affirmed the responsibility to not only discover the treasures, work, and history of our ancestors, but to also shed light on such treasures and remind the world of the excellence and greatness of our people. For there is no ‘we’ without ‘them.’”— Adrienne Warren, Tony Award nominee

“Exuberant and thoroughly captivating book…Gaines is in full command of the material he has fastidiously researched and assembled.” — The New York Times

“[A] deeply researched and thoughtful framing of this pioneering musical, its time and its influence…Gaines places the show within the broader American political and racial culture, making the book not only resonant but relevant.” — The Washington Post

“In this well-researched compilation of behind-the-scenes stories and background, pop culture historian Gaines (Inside Pee-Wee’s Playhouse) celebrates the 100th anniversary of the original staging of the all-Black musical comedy Shuffle Along… Gaines persuasively argues that these four men shouldn’t be relegated to the footnotes of history, as their work resulted in monumental gains for many Black performers. Theater buffs and students of Black history will be pleased by this cogent defense of Shuffle Along.”— Library Journal

“Gaines offers an animated, well-researched history of the creation, production, and long afterlife of Shuffle Along… A spirited, educative contribution to both theater history and Black history.”— Kirkus Reviews

“In Gaines’s hands, the artists come to life as groundbreakers—and later civil rights advocates (Sissle was president of the Negro Actors Guild in 1935)—who paved the way for artists to come. This vibrant history is well worth checking out. “— Publishers Weekly

“Through a well-paced and compelling narrative style, Gaines pays homage to the show that augured a new era for artists of color on Broadway…evocative and illuminating, Footnotes is an excellent addition to the canon of musical theater history.” — Booklist

“Absorbing…” — The Wall Street Journal

Caseen Gaines is an author, director, educator, and popular culture historian.

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