cover image Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way

Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way

Caseen Gaines. Sourcebooks, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-8881-5

Journalist Gaines (The Dark Crystal) unearths in this energetic, meticulously researched survey the story behind the 1921 musical Shuffle Along, the first show on Broadway that featured an “all-Black creative team.” Gaines focuses on the show’s four creators—playwright-comedians Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, singer and lyricist Noble Sissle, and composer and ragtime pianist Eubie Blake—and traces their collaborations and conflicts to show how Miller and Lyles developed a showstopping comedic routine that was so successful it dwarfed what “either of them could have achieved alone,” according to Lyles’s obituary. After meeting in 1915 in Baltimore, meanwhile, Sissle and Blake formed a “musical partnership that would last a lifetime.” Gaines explores how Shuffle Along (and its creators) proved that white audiences would pay Broadway prices to see Black musicals, and helped initiate the Harlem Renaissance as the show played to sold-out crowds and its popular jazz tunes spread throughout the country. 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. Agent: Peter Steinberg, YRG Partners. (May)