Noble Sissle was one of the nation's premier composers and bandleaders, particularly in the early days of American popular song and theater. He worked in a band with Eubie Blake in Baltimore as early as 1915; Luckey Roberts sometimes played piano. The Sissle/Blake team scored an early hit with "It's All Your Fault," which Sophie Tucker performed in her act. Sissle later teamed with James Europe, from 1916 until his death in 1919. They co-wrote and produced with Blake the historic shows Shuffle Along and Chocolate Dandies. Sissle recorded over 30 vocals during the early and mid-'20s, many times accompanied by Blake. Sissle and Blake appeared as a duo in some pioneering sound film shorts in the early '20s that can be considered the first jazz on film.
Sissle led several bands and visited Europe often; his traveling ways led to a split with Blake, who preferred staying in America. Sissle's circle of friends also included Cole Porter and Fred Waring, while the Prince of Wales was guest drummer at one of his concerts in 1930. When Sissle returned to America, he was featured on a broadcast from the Park Central Hotel in 1931, effectively breaking that establishment's color barrier. Lena Horne sang with his band in the mid-'30s; Nat King Cole was reportedly among the cast of Shuffle Along in 1933, a show which didn't enjoy the success of its predecessor. Sissle's band included Buster Bailey, Tommy Ladnier, and Sidney Bechet. His orchestra was a featured attraction at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe club from 1938 to 1950, except for USO tours during World War II. Sissle succeeded Bill "Bojangles" Robinson as honorary mayor of Harlem in 1950, and played at Eisenhower's inaugural in 1953. He was WMGM's first black disc jockey in 1960, ran his own publishing company, and owned a club. But repeated muggings led him to close it and retire to Florida to spend time with his son. The 1973 book Reminiscing With Sissle and Blake detailed his varied experiences. Sissle's music is featured on import CDs and anthologies of early stage, show, and popular music. ~ Ron Wynn