This Day in Black History: Feb. 12, 1983

Ragtime and jazz great Herbert "Eubie" Blake died at age 100.

Posted: 02/12/2013 08:00 AM EST

Like many artistic geniuses, Herbert "Eubie" Blake showed signs of great talent at an early age. Born in Baltimore on Feb. 7, 1883, to former slaves, he was declared a genius at age five by the manager of a music store after he began "foolin' around" on an organ there.

At age 15, Blake got his first professional gig at a Baltimore bordello. At 16, he composed his first famous work "Charleston Rag."

In 1915, Blake began collaborating with other writers on more than 350 songs, most notably Noble Sissle, with whom he created the musical sensation Shuffle Along. It was one of the first Broadway musicals to be written and directed by African-Americans. Songs included "I'm Just Wild About Harry," which President Harry Truman used as his campaign song in his 1948 re-election bid, and "Love Will Find a Way."

Blake frequently performed on The Johnny Carson Show and Merv Griffin and worked with the famed conductors Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Fiedler. In addition to earning a degree from New York University, he was awarded honorary degrees from the New England Conservatory, Dartmouth and other universities. In 1981, he received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan.

Blake died on Feb. 12, 1983, five days after celebrating his 100th birthday.

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(Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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