“You Ought to Know”


Sissle and Blake created an new set of songs for Chocolate Dandies, and Eubie would remain adamant throughout the rest of his life that they far surpassed their original hits from Shuffle Along. However, most of the critics found the songs not to be as catchy as those in the duo’s first hit show. This may have been exacerbated by Sissle and Blake’s second act interlude—which on opening night came at 11 PM in the sweltering heat—during which they reprised the earlier show’s hits. The perhaps unintentional outcome was to unfairly place their new songs in competition with their best-known and successful ones. Some critics thought the new songs were “perhaps of a higher class” and “the harmony and the melody is at all times beautiful.” But this again was a backhanded way of indicating they missed the more “negro” flavor of the duo’s earlier songs, preferring them to write in the acceptable idioms of ragtime and jazz, rather than emulating “straight” Broadway composers. The reviewer in Variety bluntly summarized the general consensus of the white critics, saying that the show’s “pretensions toward white musical comedy [are] achieved at the expense of a genuine Negro spirit.” The critic noted “there is plenty” of “white folks entertainment,” but that “good darky entertainment” was rare—and this is what African-American entertainers should stick to doing. This would become a common theme in reviews of black musical productions going forward.
Eubie commented that when the show previewed in Boston, one of the new songs “Million Little Cupids in the Sky,” was removed from the production at the insistence of the local management who felt the song was “too high class” for a Negro show. In later life, Eubie singled out “Dixie Moon” from the show as one of his favorites of all of his songs; while Sissle’s lyrics flaunted all the typical imagery of minstrel-era songs, Blake’s music showed unusual sophistication in its melody and harmonic progressions. Nonetheless, few seemed to appreciate his innovations, and the show produced no hit songs.
Another sticking point for the songwriters was the publishing arrangement for the songs. Working with their old publisher, Witmark, Eubie said they were lucky to get a $1500 advance per song; Whitney convinced T. B. Harms to pay an unheard of $5000 advance for the rights to The Chocolate Dandies’s numbers. However, the white producer pocketed all the money himself, claiming that it was part of the show’s proceeds. This was particularly galling to Blake. Harms quickly pulled the plug on the songs after the show failed, further limiting their success.

Perhaps disillusioned with commercial publishers, Sissle and Blake self-published a song in 1924 that was perhaps originally intended for for Chocolate Dandies:

“You Ought to Know” published by the “U.B. Noble” company

the charming love ballad “You Ought to Know.” The publisher was listed as the “U.B. Noble Pub. Co.” on the U.S. edition of the sheet music—an unmistakable indication that they published it themselves. Eubie’s unusually sophisticated melody and harmonies forecast his later hit, “Memories of You,” and were far advanced for the period. When Sissle and Blake toured England a year later, they recorded the song for the UK market, but it was never issued on record at home. The sheet itself is fairly rare, indicating that it sold poorly on its initial publication.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *