James Reese Europe was a composer, conductor, and organizer of the Black community. A pioneer in jazz, he led the Clef Club Orchestra and other organizations in New York, and during World War I his 369th Infantry Regiment “Hellfighters” band was among the first exporters of jazz to Europe.
Working with Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, Europe was a prominent figure in Black musical theater. He also worked with Harry T. Burleigh and Will Marion Cook, as well as the dancers Vernon and Irene Castle. His career was cut short in 1919, when he was murdered by a member of his own orchestra.
This according to A life in ragtime: A biography of James Reese Europe by Reid Badger (New York: Oxford, 1995).
Today would have been Europe’s 140th birthday! Below, one of his signature hits—W.C. Handy’s Memphis blues.
BONUS: A brief documentary focusing on Europe’s military career.