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First Name: James

Last Name: Europe

Birthplace: Mobile, AL, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: Reese

Date of Birth: 20 February 1880

Date of Death: 09 May 1919

Rank: First Lieutenant

Years Served:
James Reese Europe

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)


James Reese Europe
First Lieutenant, U.S. Army

James Reese Europe was born on 20 February 1880 in Mobile, AL, to a father who was once a slave and a "free" mother. Both of his parents were musicians, and encouraged their children's talents. When Europe was about ten, his family moved to Washington, DC, where he studied violin with Enrico Hurlei, the Assistant Director of the Marine Corps Band. The family lived a few houses from Marine Corps bandmaster, John Phillip Sousa.

At the start of World War I, Europe enlisted as a Private in the 15th Infantry, a black New York National Guard outfit. After passing the officer's exam, he later was commissioned a Second Lieutenant and the 15th Infantry was later re-designated the 369th Infantry, which the French nicknamed "The Harlem Hell Fighters" after the black soldiers showed their mettle in combat.

Europe was soon asked to form a military band as part of the combat unit. He got musicians wherever he could, even travelling all the way to Puerto Rico to recruit his reed players. Europe also recruited singers, comedians, dancers and other who could entertain troops. He recruited the best drum major he could find, Harlem dancer, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. When Europe's unit arrived in France on New Year's Day 1918, it was the first African American combat unit to set foot on French soil. His band entertained troops and citizens in every city they visited and was received with great enthusiasm. Noble Sissle said at the time, that the "Jazz germ" hit France, and it spread everywhere they went. "The Harlem Hell Fighters" served 191 days in combat, longer than any U.S. unit and reputedly never relinquished an inch of ground. Europe had composed and continued to write songs throughout the war, composing the words to "On Patrol in No Man's Land" while hospitalized after a gas attack at the front.

On 18 August 1918, he was sent from the front to lead his band at an Allied conference in Paris. They were only to play one concert, but the crowd reaction was such that both American and French officials asked them to stay in the City of Light for eight weeks. During this time, Europe's group performed in a series of concerts with some of the greatest marching bands of France, Britain and Italy. After risking his life for his country, Europe and his band returned triumphantly to New York on 12 February 1919, and soon began a tour of American cities. The final concert on the tour was at Mechanic's Hall in Boston on 9 May 1919. That evening during intermission, one of the "Percussion Twins," Herbert Wright, became angered by Europe's strict direction and attacked him with a pen knife. It was soon discovered at a hospital that Europe's jugular vein had been severed. The next day the papers carried the headlines: "The Jazz King Is Dead."

Death and Burial

James Reese Europe died on 9 May 1919 in Boston, MA. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

On 13 May, Europe received the first public funeral for an African American in New York City. Thousands of people, black and white, turned out to pay their respects.


James Reese Europe's compositions include:

"St. Louis Blues"
"Arabian Nights"
"Darktown Strutters' Ball"
"Hesitating Blues"
"Plantation Echoes"
"That Moaning Trombone"
" Memphis Blues"
"Jazz Baby"
"Dancing Deacon"
"Clarinet Marmalade"
My Choc'late Soldier Sammy Boy"

Honoree ID: 2478   Created by: MHOH




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