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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Shuffle Along (1921) and Blackbirds of 1928 (1928) are both pioneering “black musicals,” though they have little in common except their all-black casts, a leading lady (Adelaide Hall) and the fact that both enjoyed game-changing success in their original Broadway productions at opposite ends of the Jazz Age.
Shuffle Along opened May 23, 1921, ran for 484 performances and toured for years; it is recognized as the first significant Broadway book musical written by African-Americans – composer Eubie Blake, lyricist Noble Sissle and librettists Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles. Blackbirds of 1928 opened almost seven years later (May 15, 1928), the inspiration of a white creative team led by impresario Lew Leslie. Leslie hired two
young songwriters (composer Jimmy McHugh and lyricist Dorothy Fields, fresh from their first success writing for the Cotton Club in Harlem) to create a revue to showcase an all-black cast. Blackbirds of 1928 ran for a remarkable 518 performances, making it for many years to come the longest-running all-black show in Broadway history. But Broadway musicals began a steady evolution in the late 1920s, a process that quickly turned the quaint screwball silliness of Shuffle Along and the super-slick Blackbirds of 1928 into theatrical relics. Shuffle Along was revived without success in 1933 and 1952. Leslie mounted three subsequent editions of the Blackbirds franchise in 1930, 1933 and 1939, none of which achieved the success of the 1928 show, though it is interesting to note that Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds (1930) featured the participation of Eubie Blake and Flournoy Miller.
What has endured are the songs both shows introduced – most notably, “I’m Just Wild About Harry” from Shuffle Along and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” from Blackbirds of 1928. Inspired by Eubie Blake’s attempt to revive Shuffle Along in 1952, RCA Victor made a recording of four songs from the score for its “Show Time” series of 10-inch LPs, featuring new studio recordings of great songs from Broadway’s past. Blake conducted the recording and played the piano (as he had in 1921); band singer Thelma Carpenter and Avon Long (a noted Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess), who starred in the short-lived revival, share the solos. Also in the “Show Time” series, four songs from Blackbirds of 1928 were recorded the same year, with Carpenter joined this time by Cab Calloway and Lehman Engel conducting. Shortly thereafter, the two 10-inch LPs were coupled for reissue on a single disc, as they appear here.
Sadly, these are the most complete single recordings of either score, though individual sides were recorded and released (out of context, as pop records) in the 1920s by original cast members. What these brief recordings captured before it was too late is something of the original style and exuberance that made these two shows part of the Broadway zeitgeist of the 1920s. Shuffle Along and Blackbirds of 1928 themselves may be hopelessly dated theater, but the songs they introduced are timeless and unforgettable – representing nothing less than new voices and new sounds that would shape the destiny of that mainstay of modern American culture, the popular song.
-- David Foil
1 I Can't Give You Anything But Love (from "Blackbirds of 1928")
2 Diga-Diga Doo (from "Blackbirds of 1928")
3 I Must Have That Man (from "Blackbirds of 1928")
4 Doin' The New Low-Down (from "Blackbirds of 1928")
5 Love Will Find A Way (from "Shuffle Along")
6 I'm Just Wild About Harry (from "Shuffle Along")
7 Bandana Days (from "Shuffle Along")
8 Gypsy Blues (from "Shuffle Along")
Works on This Recording
Blackbirds of 1928 by James Francis McHugh
Cab Calloway (Voice),
Thelma Carpenter (Voice)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1928; USA
Date of Recording: 1953
Shuffle Along by Eubie Blake
Louise Woods (Voice),
Thelma Carpenter (Voice),
Avon Long (Tenor),
Laurence Watson (Voice)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1921; USA
Date of Recording: 1953
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
A sparkling collection August 22, 2015
By Howard Fox (Los Angeles, CA) See All My Reviews
"I have been a fan of Thelma Carpenter's since I saw her play Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly back in '67. This wonderful collection of songs is a bit short on content but HUGE on talent. I long for the days of Broadway when these types of shows were on the boards"
Great recording, short CD May 24, 2012
By Alan Eichler (Glendale, CA) See All My Reviews
"First of all, the notes contradict themselves. This was issued originally as one 10" LP, not two combined. The entire RCA show series was done this way, two shows per disc, four songs per show. I would have suggested combining this release with another in the series, "Porgy and Bess/Girl Crazy," which also features Cab Calloway. The entire series deserves reissue. As for the shows, Columbia previously released a vinyl LP of the existing period recordings from "Blackbirds of 1928" featuring Ethel Waters, the Mills Brothers, Adelaide Hall and Duke Ellington, and the Smithsonian did a compilation of "Shuffle Along" recordings, so much more material does exist. This RCA recording is excellently done with good hi-fi sound and is worth having for Thelma Carpenter alone, who is showcased on five numbers which are among the best of her career, including two comic duets with Avon Long that capture the spirit of the show. This definitely does belonng in any serious show collection."