A Punch in the Nose

17 10 2010

Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake
Noble Sissle (L) and Eubie Blake

“Songwriter and performer Noble Sissle, a longtime partner of the ragtime pioneer Eubie Blake, recalled Jolson’s unprompted act of kindness in 1919 after a Hartford restaurant refused to serve the two black musicians. A local newspaper mentioned the incident, and, Sissle later recalled: ‘To our everlasting amazement, we promptly got a call from Al Jolson. He was in town with his show and even though we were two very unimportant guys whom he’d never heard of until that morning, he was so sore about that story he wanted to make it up to us.’ The next evening, Jolson treated Sissle and Blake to dinner, insisting that ‘he’d punch anyone in the nose who tried to kick us out.’ ”
New York Times, Oct. 22, 2000

Subsequent to their meeting, according to biographer Al Rose, in Eubie Blake (1979), Jolson and Eubie became friends. Rose writes:
“This didn’t have anything to do with the theater, because they never worked together. Rather, they both had a love of prize fighting and used to go to boxing matches together, engaging in jocose discussion of the relative merits of Negro with Jewish pugilists. They would occasionally wager a bottle of whisky on these bouts.

Noble Sissle, then president of the Black Actor’s Guild, came and represented that organization at Jolson’s funeral in 1950.



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