Noble Lee Sissle was born in July 1889 in Indianapolis, Ind. He moved to Cleveland in 1909, graduated from Central High School in 1911 and studied at DePauw University and Butler University.
As a child, he sang soprano in his father’s church and at school festivals. He began singing professionally in 1908 and organized his first group in 1915.
In 1917, Sissle and his co-performers, James Reese Europe and Eubie Blake, joined the 369th Infantry Regimental Band, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters. This was a regiment assigned to the French Army during World War I. They experienced 191 days of combat. The “Hellfighter Band” helped bring jazz to European countries as well as boost the morale of the soldiers. Together, they produced notable songs such as “Mirandy (That Gal o’ Mine),” “Good Night Angeline” and “On Patrol in No Man’s Land.” They played for crowds at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and were met with positive reviews in France. Word of their skill also arrived back in the United States. Sissle served overseas in the 369th Infantry Regimental Band until 1919.
Afterwards, the band returned to the U.S. and began touring the country. Sissle and Blake formed a vaudeville music group known as the Dixie Duo and performed many tours. During their tours, they met Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, an experienced comedy and dance duo. These two acts worked together to create the musical “Shuffle Along,” which opened on May 23, 1921, and remained on Broadway for 18 months.
After producing another show named “Chocolate Dandies,” the Sissle-Blake team split up in 1926. From the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s, Sissle led his own orchestra, which toured Europe and the U.S. In 1937, he helped found the Negro Actors Guild of America and became its first president that same year. During World War II, Sissle played with an Army band and toured with his United Service Organizations Camp Show. Additionally, in 1950, he assumed the honorary post of mayor of Harlem. He died in December 1975 at age 86.
We honor his service.