Alabama Music Books and Authors
A Life in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe
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by Reid Badger
>From Publishers Weekly
In this significant biography, Badger (The Great American Fair) examines the life and accomplishments of the black composer and conductor whose brilliant career was cut short at age 39 in a bizarre murder. Europe (1880-1919), who came from a poor family in Mobile, Ala., rose to a position of prominence, leading a number of black orchestras, including those that played for dancers Vernon and Irene Castle, who popularized professional social dancing. He also created and led the WWI Hellfighters, the all-black 15th Infantry Regiment Band, and organized black music associations like the Clef Club, devoted to furthering the careers of black musicians in New York City. Although little is known of Europe's personal life, Badger indicates he was an man of great dignity and pride. Largely forgotten after his death-he was stabbed by a drummer in his own orchestra-he has recently been rediscovered as a major figure in the history of black American music at its transition from ragtime to jazz. Includes a list of Europe's compositions and a discography. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
James Reese Europe was a pivotal composer-conductor who helped jazz's evolution away from ragtime--a significant-enough accomplishment, especially considering Reese's relatively short life (he was murdered at 39 in 1919). But Badger's engrossing biography proves that Europe was an American hero both in front of and far away from an orchestra. Badger's analyses of Europe's compositions are well-informed and suitably augmented with commentary from such notable collaborators as Eubie Blake. Badger shows, too, that Europe helped restyle modern dance through his collaborations with Vernon and Irene Castle; and he includes chapters on the Clef Club, one of the earliest African American musicians' unions, which Europe helped create. Europe's career took an incredible turn during World War I, an episode Badger carefully details: while the triumphs of the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment are legendary, few know that Europe was the first African American officer to lead troops in combat during the war. A Life in Ragtime is one of the most important works of jazz scholarship to emerge in quite some time. Aaron Cohen