The Troy Street Observer

May 9, 1919: James Reese Europe Slain in Boston

On May 9, 1919, bandleader James Reese Europe was mortally wounded at a Boston concert backstage at Mechanics Hall on Huntington Avenue.

Photo of the 369th Infantry Band
The 369th Infantry Band

Where do you start with Jim Europe? A pianist and violinist in the early years of the twentieth century in New York, he was hired as music director for his first stage show in 1906. In 1910, he organized the Clef Club, a black musicians union. In 1912, he led the first orchestra of black musicians to play Carnegie Hall. In 1913, he signed a Victor recording contract, also a first for a black musician, and in 1914 he composed music for the white dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle (“The Castle Walk,” “The Castle House Rag”).

In 1917, the army asked Europe to organize a military band for the 369th Infantry, an all-black regiment nicknamed the “Hell Fighters.” They served in France for over a year, and inspired the French as well as the American army with their music. The Hell Fighters returned to New York and a Fifth Avenue parade in February 1919.

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