Philadelphia has long been known as a theater tryout town, but one
show that many have forgotten is the first mainstream African American
hitShuffle Along. Now, a
documentary revision of the 1921 jazz musical is back and is a big
Broadway hit. The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns
examines its local roots.
"The show launched songwriter Eubie Blake and gave career starts to Josephine Baker and William Grant Still."
David Patrick Stearns: Sitting in the Shuffle Along
audience at Broadway's Music Box Theater, I kept seeing Philadelphia
locales popping up, though places I'd never heard of, like the Dunbar
Theater at Broad and Lombard streets. Where are they now? Goodness
knows, Philadelphia doesn't tear down buildings so much as it waits for
them to collapse. But the Dunbar?
Jack McCarthy: It's now a parking lot and it's the parking lot to the city health building.
That's Jack McCarthy, the Philadelphia archivist and music historian
recounting a lost world, a remarkable African American enclave grouped
around Broad and South streets that showed how Shuffle Along hardly rose from a vacuum.
There were, in that little stretch of five or six blocks, three major
theaters catering to black audiences at that time in the '20s. So,
Philadelphia at that time has this enormous and growing and diverse
DPS: The audience was African
American workers who had migrated from the south around World War I,
those who had been in Philadelphia for generations, and even white