James Reese Europe and His Orchestra

europe_james

“No inconsiderable part of our success was due to his wonderful playing…”

— Irene Castle

James Reese Europe (born today in 1880) can be thought of as the W.E.B. DuBois of American music, not just an accomplished musician, but a relentless teacher, theorist and advocate for the cause of widespread acceptance of African Americans as the equals of whites in the field of serious music.Europe had studied music seriously as a youngster in Washington, D.C., moved to New York, and quickly made a name for himself organizing bands for society parts, which is where he met Vernon and Irene Castle, who hired him to be their musical director.

Not surprisingly, the Europe Orchestra and their alumni were among the first African Americans to tread the vaudeville stage without the mask of burnt cork. Dressed in evening clothes, this crack ensemble of highly trained musicians infused their music with elements of ragtime and what was then coming to be known as jazz. Two of its more sophisticated alumni, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake (author of “I’m Just Wild About Harry”) would form their own team called the “Dixie Duo” and become Palace headliners themselves, in addition to creating the seminal Broadway show Shuffle Along. Others he collaborated with included Walker and Williams, Cole and Johnson, Will Marion Cook and Ernest Hogan.

When the U.S. entered the World War in 1918, Europe further distinguished himself by organizing an all-black regimental band. This patriotic group bravely entertained doughboys throughout the theatre of war until the armistice, at which point they returned home for a triumphant U.S. tour. It was on the last performance of that tour in 1919 that one of his own musicians, over some perceived slight, stabbed Europe to death.

For more on Europe’s incredible contributions, go here.

And here he is with his orchestra playing the Castle House Rag (named of course in honor of the dance team who helped put him on the map). The Castle House was the name of their dance school:

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

safe_image

And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s