Written by the comic duo of Flournoy Miller and Aubrey L. Lyles,
with music and lyrics by the vaudeville team of Eubie Blake and Noble
Sissle, the musical revue Shuffle Along opened on Broadway
in 1921. It enjoyed an astonishing run of 504 performances in its
home at the Cort Theatre.
With its all-black cast, Shuffle Along introduced Broadway to the
rising young stars Florence Mills, Paul Robeson, and a 15-year-old singer and
dancer named Josephine Baker. Even more pivotal, the production did not follow
the racist practice of restricting black theatergoers to the balcony; the Cort
welcomed them to the orchestra seats as well.
The show featured the first realistic African-American love story. That was
a historical milestone. Until Shuffle Along, love scenes between blacks
had been a stage taboo unless they were broad, often debasing caricatures. White
audiences, it was feared, would not accept anything more sophisticated than
In addition to its tactical successes—it introduced the song
"Love Will Find a Way," for example—Shuffle Along
scored a strategic coup as well. It legitimized both the African-American
musical and the African-American actor, proving to white stage producers
and theater managers that audiences would gladly pay good money to
see excellent black talent on Broadway.