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Black History Month in Ohio: Noble Sissle

A composer with ties to Cleveland, Sissle helped shatter Broadway's color barrier.

CLEVELAND — A composer, bandleader and vocalist, Noble Sissle was born in 1889 in Indianapolis, Indiana, but moved with his family to Cleveland in his teens. His father was a minister and organist; Sissle's mother taught piano. 

Drawn to music, Sissle joined the Glee Club at old Central High School, and also started singing on a vaudeville circuit in his teens. He left Butler University to begin performing fulltime. 

By 1915, Sissle formed a songwriting team with famed lyricist and composer Eubie Blake. Together, the duo wrote "Shuffle Along," one of the first Broadway musicals to be written and directed by Black Americans and the very first to  become a smash hit. The musical is credited with helping to shatter the color barrier on the Great White Way.

In 1937, Sissle helped found the Negro Actors' Guild, which helped create better opportunities for black actors during a time where the country was at a crossroads over how citizens of color would be depicted in film, television and the stage. Sissle served as the Guild's very first president.  

Noble Sissle died on Dec. 17, 1975 in Tampa, Florida.

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