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Biography Noble Sissle, 1889-1975

Image: Portrait of Noble Sissle by Carl Van Vechten
[Portrait of Noble Sissle] by Carl Van Vechten (1951). Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.

Noble Sissle was born in Indianapolis on July 10, 1889. After attending Butler University, he toured with the Thomas Jubilee Singers and became a protege of James Reese Europe, the great band leader. In 1915 Sissle met James Hubert "Eubie" Blake; they formed a songwriting partnership with Blake focusing on music and Sissle on lyrics. Their first song "It's All Your Fault" was introduced by Sophie Tucker and became a hit.

In 1916 Sissle, Blake, and Europe planned to create a new black Broadway show in the manner of the Williams and Walker shows of the previous decade. Their plans were interrupted, however, by the outbreak of World War I. Sissle and Europe enlisted and created an all black regimental band which played to much acclaim.

After the war ended, Sissle returned to the United States and formed Sissle's Sizzling Syncopators Orchestra. He recorded for Emerson Records with this orchestra and with Blake through 1921. Sissle and Blake's big break was the musical Shuffle Along, which opened at the 63rd Street Theatre on Broadway and became the biggest hit of the 1921 season. This musical introduced such songs as "I'm Just Wild about Harry," "Love Will Find a Way," "Baltimore Buzz," "Bandana Days," "Gypsy Blues," and "Simply Full of Jazz." The show closed in 1924 after touring extensively. After producing another show, Chocolate Dandies (1924-25), the Sissle-Blake team split up in 1926.

Sissle formed another orchestra which toured Europe and the U.S. This band also appeared in some movies with black casts, including Murder with Music.

Sissle produced and starred in two other shows: Dixie on Parade (1930) and Shuffle Along of 1933 (1933). In 1939 he played at ASCAP's Silver Jubilee Festival at Carnegie Hall.

During World War II, Sissle played with an army band and toured with his USO Camp Show. In 1942 he finished a still-unpublished manuscript, "Memoirs of Lieutenant Jim Europe" which is now in the collections of the Library of Congress.

Sissle also founded the Negro Actors Guild. Known as the unofficial mayor of Harlem, he died in December 1975.