Jim Europe

Born February 20, 1880. Died May 19, 1919. United States Army Officer, Jazz musician, composer. He was a World War I Hero, an influential ragtime musician and composer, and a bandleader. His contributions to ragtime music’s mainstream acceptance and the acceptance of African American music as an art form are well-known. He was a tireless fighter for the dignity and equal pay for African American musicians. Europe was also the leader of the U.S. Military band, which was responsible for introducing France’s rhythmic beats to African Americans. In the years before World War I, he was a prominent figure in New York’s African American music community. He collaborated with Eubie and Noble Sissle throughout his career and was close to the Irene Castle and Vernon dance teams. Europe and his orchestra were, with the exception of Bert Williams (comedian) and a few other obscure gospel groups that have recorded, the first black musicians ever to record. He was also the first African American military officer to lead troops into battle. Europe was born in Mobile (Alabama) on February 22, 1881 to a father who was once an slave and a mother who was “free”. His parents were both musicians and encouraged his children’s talent. Europe moved with his family to Washington, D.C., when he was ten years old. There, he studied violin under Enrico Hurlei, an assistant director of Marine Corps Band. The family lived just a few houses away from John Phillip Sousa, Marine Corps bandmaster. Europe was 14 years old when he entered a contest for music-writing. His sister Mary came second. He moved to New York at 22 to pursue a musical career as a pianist in a cabaret. Europe continued his musical studies and joined Joe Jordan in 1905 to write for The Memphis Students. Europe, unaware of his influence on George Gershwin, was also a songwriting legend that year. He was appointed musical director of Cole and Johnson’s Shoo Fly Regiment in 1907. Europe was the musical director of Cole and Johnson’s Shoo-Fly Regiment for two years. He founded the Clef Club, one of the most unique African American organizations in 1910. The Clef Club was the first African American music union booking agent. It was both a fraternal organization as well as a union. Europe was The Clef Club’s first elected president and also the conductor of its symphony Orchestra. On May 2, 1912, the Clef Club Orchestra made its Carnegie Hall debut. They were so popular that they returned to Carnegie Hall in 1913 and 1914. According to one American writer, popular music was first introduced to the concert hall when Europe opened Carnegie Hall. The concerts earned The Clef Club Orchestra more respect among white society. They were invited to perform at some of the most prestigious functions in New York, London, Paris, as well as on yachts that travel around the world. The orchestra was a clearinghouse for musicians and all types of entertainers. Europe led the effort to improve performers’ working conditions. At its peak, the orchestra was extremely successful and generated over $100,000 per year in bookings. Europe formed the Tempo Club in 1914 after Clef Club members began to dispute. Europe enlisted in the 15th Infantry as a private, a New York National Guard outfit. He passed the officer’s examination and was then comissioned as a lieutenant. The 15th Infantry was later renamed the 369th Infantry by the French after the combat-ready black soldiers. Europe was quickly asked to create a military band to be part of the combat unit. He recruited musicians from all over the world, even going as far as Puerto Rico to get his reed players. Europe also hired comedians, singers, and dancers to entertain troops. Bill “Bojangles”, a Harlem dancer, was his best drum major. It was the first African-American combat unit to step foot on French soil when Europe’s unit arrived in France on New Year’s Day 1918. His band entertained soldiers and citizens in every town they visited, and was met with great enthusiasm. Noble Sissle stated that the “Jazz Germ” had hit France and spread to all parts of the country. The “Harlem HellFighters” would spend 191 days in combat. This was longer than any U.S. unit, and they reportedly never gave up a single inch of ground. Europe had written and continued to compose songs throughout World War II. He wrote the lyrics to “On Patrol In No Man’s Land” during his hospitalization following a gas attack at home. He was then sent to Paris, France, to lead his band at the Allies conference. Although they were only allowed to perform one concert, the public response was so strong that both American officials and French officials requested that they stay for eight weeks in the City of Light. Europe’s band performed at a series concerts alongside some of the most prestigious marching bands in France, Britain, and Italy during this period. Europe and his band risked their lives for their country and returned to New York on February 12, 1919. They soon began a tour through American cities. On May 9, 1919, the final concert of the tour took place at Mechanic’s Hall, Boston. One of the “Percussion Twins,” Herbert Wright became angry at Europe’s strict instructions and attacked him with his pen knife during intermission. Soon, it was discovered that Europe had severed his jugular vein at a hospital. The headlines in the newspapers the next day read: “The Jazz King is Dead.” The first European public funeral for an African American was held in New York City on May 13. His final procession was attended by thousands of people from all walks of life, both black and white. He was then buried at Arlington National Cemetery with military honors. Europe’s compositions include “St. Louis Blues,” Arabian Nights,” Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” Hesitating Blues,” Planttation Echoes,” That Moaning Trombone,” Memphis Blues,” Jazz Baby,” Dancing Deacon,” Clairnet Marmalade,” My Choc’late Soldier Sammy Boy” and others. James Reese Europe’s tale is the most tragic of his contemporaries. Europe never achieved his greatest goal, despite all of his accomplishments. To restore the Negro on Broadway. Europe’s fame quickly faded after his death. His dream would be realized by his two students, Noble Sissle, and Eubie Blake. Although he accomplished much in his short time, his greatest accomplishments were certain to follow. It is safe to say that jazz history would not have been the same without Europe’s untimely passing. (bio by: Curtis Jackson) from http://www.findagrave.com

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