James Reese Europe (1880-1919) was a gifted musician who achieved numerous firsts in bringing African-American musicians and music into the mainstream. As a conductor and composer, he is credited with bringing ragtime and jazz to European audiences. He enlisted in what was to become the 369th Regiment (Harlem Hellfighters) during World War I and was bandleader and also became an officer in charge one of the machine gun squads, making him the first African-American officer to command troops during wartime.
James Reese Europe’s Early Years
Europe was born in Mobile, Alabama. His father was a minster and an Internal Revenue Service employee who moved his family to Washington, D.C. in 1889 to accept a job with the Post Office. Both parents and some of Europe’s siblings were musically talented, as was James Reese Europe, and Europe was admitted to a prestigious school for blacks in D.C. There he studied violin, piano, and composition. Continue reading