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Tue, 02.22.1881

James R. Europe, Composer, and Bandleader born

James Europe

*James R. Europe was born on this date in 1881. He was a Black bandleader, arranger, composer, and a major figure in the transition from ragtime to jazz.

From Mobile, Ala., James Reese Europe studied piano and violin in his youth and 1904, settled in New York City, where he directed musical comedies.  In 1910, he helped organize the Clef Club, a union of Black musicians. The 125-member Clef Club Society Orchestra that he conducted at Carnegie Hall featured some extraordinary instrumentation, including 47 mandolins and bandores and 27 harp-guitars.

Europe's Society Orchestra was probably the first African American band to record, as early as 1913; it offered fast versions of ragtime works, usually with a demanding rhythmic momentum.  His band also regularly accompanied the popular white dance team of Irene and Vernon Castle, who popularized the fox trot dancing to scores by Europe and his collaborator, Ford Dabney. During World War I Europe led the all-Black 369th Infantry band, which toured France and was famous for its syncopations and expressive colors.

The band was nicknamed the "Hell Fighters" and made a triumphal postwar tour of the United States when Europe was killed by one of his musicians in May 1919 in Boston, Mass.

To Become a Musician or Singer


Jazz: A History of the New York Scene
Samuel Charters and Leonard Kunstadt
(Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., 1962) p.73

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