N inety-five years ago in New York, a journalist named Lester Walton bought a ticket to see a much-buzzed-about new show, a "musical novelty" that had opened about a week before at the Sixty-Third Street Theater. Or the Sixty-Third Street Music Hall, as it was more properly called. A kind of multipurpose performance space, not very big, not very nice, "sandwiched in between garages," Walton wrote, and "little known to the average Broadway theatergoer." You could rent the place for the night. It had philosophical lectures, amateur violin recitals and religious meetings, and during the day it showed silent movies: " 'Pudd'n Head Wilson,' with Theodore Roberts, tomorrow." But on this evening — and for many months to come, as it turned out — the stage belonged to an all-black show called "Shuffle Along," a comedy with lots of singing and dancing. A problem: The music hall had no orchestra pit, and this show needed an orchestra. It needed space for the band, which happened to include a 25-year-old musician known as Bill Still, later to become the famous composer William Grant Still, but in 1921 a mostly unheard-of young man from Arkansas, switching among the six or seven instruments he… Read full this story
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