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Mary Loraine Europe
*The birth of Mary Loraine Europe is celebrated on this date in 1885. She was a Black pianist, organist, and music educator.
Born in Mobile, Alabama, Mary Loraine Europe was a daughter of Henry J. Europe and Loraine (Saxon) Europe. Her father was a native of Alabama and a devoted member of the Baptist Church of Mobile. Her mother was a talented musician who instilled a love of music in all of the Europe children. She was the younger sister of Ida S., Minnie, John Newton, ragtime composer, and World War I-era bandleader James Reese Europe.
In her youth, she and her family had relocated from Mobile to Washington, D.C. Their first home, at 308 B Street, SE, was close to the U.S. Post Office, where her father worked as a clerk in 1889. By 1891, he was employed as a supervisor in the Mail Equipment Division and had enrolled as a student at the Howard University School of Law. Meanwhile, Mary Europe and her siblings were continuing to pursue their studies through piano lessons from their mother and via the city's public schools.
After their father left the Postal Service in 1894 to become a realtor, the family moved to 1705 8th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C., where she and her family were members of the Lincoln Memorial Congregational Church. It was during this time that her parents reportedly paid for music theory lessons for Mary with the Leipzig Conservatory-trained Hans Hanke. In addition, after performing a duet with her brother, Jim, at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in July 1894, she subsequently beat out her brother for first prize in a community competition for musical composers that same year.
The untimely death of her father upended her relatively ordered world on June 21, 1899; he was buried two days later at the Columbian Harmony Cemetery, one of the largest Black cemeteries in the city, until it was closed. In 1960, the remains of the 37,000 men, women, and children were exhumed and re-interment at the National Harmony Memorial Park Cemetery in nearby Landover, Maryland. As the new century dawned, the majority of the Europe siblings then began to achieve a measure of fame as their musical talents were recognized and rewarded. She was a teacher and accompanist of religious and concert music in Washington. By the spring of 1900, Europe was completing her own studies at the Minor Normal School.
Following her graduation in 1902, she then became the assistant pianist for the Park Temple Congregational Church. By 1901, she accompanied the church’s choir as principal pianist and organist. Hired by her brother’s mentor, Joseph Douglass, she also rendered the same services for Harry T. Burleigh and Clarence C. White. From 1903 to 1944, she was employed by Dunbar High School. Initially hired as an accompanist for the school’s music ensembles, she was finally promoted to a position as a music educator a decade later.
During this phase of her life, she was recruited to work with the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society in 1904. Europe was the accompanist for performances of his choral work, Hiawatha. She frequently received rave reviews for her performances from mainstream newspaper reviewers. In 1906, she was recruited by Taylor to accompany his ensemble for the festival bearing the name of his ensemble. This was held from November 21 to 23 at Washington’s Metropolitan A.M.E. Church. Europe never lost sight of her pursuit of a higher education degree. Using her summers to receive advanced training at Columbia University’s Teachers College, she finally earned her A. B. from Howard University in 1922.
During World War II, she trained students for concert radio and army camp performances. Among her students were Lawrence Winters, Turner Layton, and Frank Wess, jazz instrumentalist and arranger. According to her students, Mary Europe possessed an absolute sense of pitch and could read and transpose accurately the most difficult music at sight. Mary Lorraine Europe also suffered an untimely death, passing away in 1947.