James Reese Europe

James Reese Europe (1881–1919) was a ragtime and early jazz bandleader and composer.

Europe was born in Mobile, but his family moved to Washington, D.C. when he was 10 years old.

He was the leading figure on the African American music scene of New York City in the 1910s. Europe organized the Clef Club Orchestra, the first jazz band to play at Carnegie Hall. His “Society Orchestra” became nationally famous in 1912.

In 1913 and 1914 he made a series of phonograph records, some of the best examples of the pre-jazz hot ragtime style of the 1910s. The Clef Club Orchestra and the Society Orchestra were large symphonic bands; the Clef Orchestra had 125 members.

During World War I Europe saw combat as a lieutenant with the “Harlem Hellfighters”, the band of which he directed to great acclaim. In February and March of 1918, James Reese Europe and his military band travelled over 2,000 miles in France, performing for British, French and American military audiences as well as French civilians. In 1919 he made more recordings for Pathé Records.

James Reese Europe died after being stabbed by a member of his band. At the time of his death, he was the best-known African American bandleader in the United States