(July 10, 1889-Dec. 17, 1975). As a young boy, Noble Sissle, a native of Indianapolis, worked as an office boy for Dr. Sumner Furniss, a well-known Black physician. Sissle attended Shortridge High School until his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1906, where he completed high school. The family returned to Indianapolis in 1913 after his father’s death.

Portrait of a man and woman.
Noble Lee Sissle with Lena Horne, ca. 1920s. Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

In the fall of 1913, Sissle attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, for one semester before transferring to Butler University in Indianapolis. Sissle’s time at Butler came to an early end, however, as he moved into a full-time music career.

Since childhood, Sissle had been interested in singing and writing songs. Though he had very little formal training as a musician, he had gained quite a reputation in high school and college as an entertainer with an excellent tenor singing voice. While at Butler, he even wrote several “yells” for the football team.

At the request of the owner of the Severin Hotel, Sissle formed a 12-piece orchestra to play regularly there. After numerous Indianapolis engagements, Sissle was fortunate enough, during his first trip to the East Coast, to team with Eubie Blake, a brilliant pianist and composer. This was the beginning of the rise to fame of the team of Sissle and Blake as entertainers, composers, and theatrical entrepreneurs.

The 1921 musical Shuffle Along, written and produced by Sissle, Blake, Flournoy Miller, and Aubrey Lyle, marked the revival of African American folk humor, jazz dance, and Ragtime. During its more than 500 performances, many on Broadway, Shuffle Along served as a beacon to other talented Black Americans interested in the theater and introduced such performers as Florence Mills and Josephine Baker.

The song, “I’m Just Wild About Harry” usually associated with the Truman-Dewey presidential race of 1948, was written by Sissle and Blake as part of the Shuffle Along repertoire. Other memorable songs by Sissle and Blake included “Love Will Find A Way” and “You Were Meant For Me.” During the 1930s, Sissle periodically returned to Indianapolis with his orchestra for engagements at the Indiana Roof Ballroom.

Revised February 2021

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