Celebrating Black History Month- James Reese Europe February 14 2012, 0 Comments

Contributed by Jack Kopstein James Reese Europe was a well-known international jazz band musician and band leader.  He joined the army during World War II and obtained a Commission in the New York Army National Guard, where he saw combat as a lieutenant with the 369th Infantry Regiment (the "Harlem Hellfighters").  He went on to direct the regimental band to great acclaim.  In February and March of 1918, James Reese Europe and his military band travelled over 2,000 miles in France, performing for British, French, and American military audiences, as well as French civilians.  Europe's "Hellfighters" made their first recordings in France for the Pathé brothers.  The first concert included a French march, “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” as well as syncopated numbers such as "The Memphis Blues," which, according to a later description of the concert by a band member, "...started ragtimitis in France." After his return home in February 1919 he stated, “I have come from France more firmly convinced than ever that Negros should write Negro music.  We have our own racial feeling and if we try to copy whites we will make bad copies…We won France by playing music which was ours and not a pale imitation of others, and if we are to develop in America, we must develop along our own lines.”  In 1919, James Reese Europe made more recordings for Pathé Records, including both instrumentals and accompaniments with vocalist Noble Sissle.  Noble Sissle with Eubie Blake, would later have great success with their 1921 production of Shuffle Along, which gives us the classic song "I'm Just Wild About Harry."  Differing in style from Europe's recordings of a few years earlier, they incorporate blues, blue notes, and early jazz influences including a rather stiff cover record of the Original Dixieland Jass(sic) Band's "Clarinet Marmalade." On the night of May 9, 1919 Europe performed for the last time.  He had been feeling extremely ill all day, but wanted to continue on with the concert, which was to be the first of three in Boston’s Mechanics Hall.  During the intermission Europe went to have a talk with two of his drummers, Steve and Herbert Wright.  After criticizing some of their behavior, which included walking off stage during others’ performances, Herbert became very agitated and threw his drumsticks down in a seemingly unwarranted outburst of anger.  He claimed Europe didn’t treat him well and that he was tired of getting blamed for others’ mistakes.  He lunged for Europe with a pen knife and was able to successfully stab Europe in the neck.  Europe told his band to finish the set and he would see them the next morning. It would be the last time they saw him alive. News of Europe’s death spread fast to a stunned public.  W.C. Handy wrote, “The man who had just come through the baptism of war’s fire and steel without a mark had been stabbed by one of his own musicians…The sun was in the sky.  The new day promised peace.  But all the suns had gone down for Jim Europe, and Harlem didn’t seem the same.”  Europe was granted the first ever public funeral for an African American in the city of New York.  Tanney Johnson said of his death, “Before Jim Europe came to New York, the colored man knew nothing but Negro dances and porter’s work.  All that has been changed. Jim Europe was the living open sesame to the colored porters of this city.  He took them from their porter’s places and raised them to positions of importance as real musicians.  I think the suffering public ought to know that in Jim Europe, the race has lost a leader, a benefactor, and a true friend.” At the time of his death he was the best-known African American bandleader in the United States.  He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Watch the YouTube video to learn more about James Reese Europe and the Famous "Hellfighters" Band Adapted from Wikipedia