The 93 Years Of Eubie Blake


In 1922 you became a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers ( ASCAP ). Signing on that early with ASCAP , you must have memories of its founders and charter members. Did you know James Weldon Johnson?

Oh, yeah. Weldon Johnson had.second sight. There are people born that way—my father was that way. Weldon used it to help ASCAP —secretly—when Gene Buck was president. Gene would get stuck when ASCAP was just starting—problems, lawyers, people trying to tear ASCAP down. Gene Buck would call Jim Johnson—now this is two o’clock at night [imitating Johnson’s deliberate speech]:

“Hello, Gene, how are you? Well, what now, Gene?”

“This is the case and the lawyers say so-and-so, and they’re about to pull us under.”

“Yes. Well, I’ll tell you. You’d better let me sleep on it. Gall me about 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning.”

And in the morning he never missed, never missed the right answer.

I heard Gene tell that at Weldon’s funeral, 127th Street and Seventh Avenue, Countee Gullen’s father’s church and everybody spoke! Doctor W. J. Johnson, Professor Weldon Johnson, and so on. He was everything that’s high to Negroes. And whites, too. Then Gene Buck got up—I can see him now—“To you, ladies and gentlemen, it was Doctor this and Professor that. To me, lying there in his casket, he is plain Jim Johnson.” [Mimics the murmurs of discontent at this seeming slight.] But Gene put a “but” in there to hold them.

But! None of you knew him like I knew him. Your own people didn’t know him like I knew him. Did you know that Weldon Johnson secretly ran the biggest musical organization in the world? Yes, he did,” and he told that story.

Gene Buck was a very successful songwriter and for years a producer for Flo Ziegfeld. How did he get his start?

Gene Buck was from Detroit. He started as an artist—painted title pages for music. Now, this guy is just out of school, and he comes to New York. He ain’t got his first quarter , and he went down there to that colored music-publishing company, Gotham-Attucks, and those Negroes put him to work. He made these title pages for them and got on his feet through that.

So when Gene got to be president of ASCAP , he said wipe out all that prejudice. You know, they had some crackers in there, and Gene said, “Now, we don’t have that in here,” and just wiped them right away. This was for people who write , I don’t care if they’re green, blue, or whatever. If they get to be a success, they get their money.

Mr. Blake, you can look back on all of the twentieth century’s ups and downs in the music business, and on the many changes of style and fashion in popular and theatrical music. What future trends would you predict?

People go more with rhythm than they do melody. The best proof of that is rock and roll—stays in one key and on one chord, mostly, and they’re crazy about it. It’s the rhythm—most contagious thing in the world today.

But I think melody is going to come back.

Melody with conventional harmony?

Well, that’s what’s worrying me—“modern” harmony. It sounds like, to me, cursing . You see, anybody’s liable to say damn or hell, but when a man says so-and-so and so-and-so, cursing all the time and never saying a legal word, I don’t like that kind of music. I don’t say it ain’t good. It must be good because people buy it. But I wouldn’t buy it.

Some of the writers, young writers, are going to listen to melodies and start to write melodies. The melodies today are not good, most of them. I don’t mean to knock anybody. Everybody’s got a right to make a living. But they don’t sit down and think up a beautiful melody.

I think they will come back to melodious music.