The triumphant story of how an all-Black Broadway cast and crew changed musical theatre—and the world—forever.
"This musical introduced Black excellence to the Great White Way. Broadway was forever changed and we, who stand on the shoulders of our brilliant ancestors, are charged with the very often elusive task of carrying that torch into our present."—Billy Porter, Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning actor
"The 1920s were the years of Manhattan's Black Renaissance. It began with Shuffle Along." —Langston Hughes
If Hamilton, Rent, or West Side Story captured your heart, you'll love this in-depth look into the rise of the 1921 Broadway hit, Shuffle Along, the first all-Black musical to succeed on Broadway. No one was sure if America was ready for a show featuring nuanced, thoughtful portrayals of Black characters—and the potential fallout was terrifying. But from the first jazzy, syncopated beats of composers Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, New York audiences fell head over heels.
When Broadway Was Black is the story of how Sissle and Blake, along with comedians Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, overcame poverty, racism, and violence to harness the energy of the Harlem Renaissance and produce a runaway Broadway hit that launched the careers of many of the twentieth century's most beloved Black performers. Born in the shadow of slavery and establishing their careers at a time of increasing demands for racial justice and representation for people of color, they broke down innumerable barriers between Black and white communities at a crucial point in our history.
Author and pop culture expert Caseen Gaines leads readers through the glitz and glamour of New York City during the Roaring Twenties to reveal the revolutionary impact one show had on generations of Americans, and how its legacy continues to resonate today.
Praise for When Broadway Was Black:
"A major contribution to culture."—Brian Jay Jones, New York Times bestselling author of Jim Henson: The Biography
"With meticulous research and smooth storytelling, Caseen Gaines significantly deepens our understanding of one of the key cultural events that launched the Harlem Renaissance."—A Lelia Bundles, New York Times bestselling author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker
"Absorbing..."—The Wall Street Journal
Previously published as Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way
About the Author
Author and journalist Caseen Gaines has written for Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and NY Mag. He holds an MA from Rutgers Uni in American Studies, focusing on racial representations in popular culture.
""In this well-researched compilation of behind-the-scenes stories and background, pop culture historian Gaines (Inside Pee-Wee’s Playhouse) celebrates the 100th anniversary of the original staging of the all-Black musical comedy Shuffle Along... Gaines persuasively argues that these four men shouldn’t be relegated to the footnotes of history, as their work resulted in monumental gains for many Black performers. Theater buffs and students of Black history will be pleased by this cogent defense of Shuffle Along." ? Library Journal" — Library Journal
""Gaines offers an animated, well-researched history of the creation, production, and long afterlife of Shuffle Along… A spirited, educative contribution to both theater history and Black history." ? Kirkus Reviews" — Kirkus Reviews
""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. " ? Publishers Weekly" — Publishers Weekly
""Through a well-paced and compelling narrative style, Gaines pays homage to the show that augured a new era for artists of color on Broadway...evocative and illuminating, Footnotes is an excellent addition to the canon of musical theater history." ? Booklist" — Booklist
""Exuberant and thoroughly captivating book...Gaines is in full command of the material he has fastidiously researched and assembled." ? The New York Times" — The New York Times
""[A] deeply researched and thoughtful framing of this pioneering musical, its time and its influence…Gaines places the show within the broader American political and racial culture, making the book not only resonant but relevant." ? The Washington Post" — The Washington Post
"Gaines has produced an engaging and approachable book, in which he deftly navigates the complexity of social and cultural power in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to argue for the immediacy and importance of Shuffle Along." — Studies in Musical Theatre