During the first two decades of the twentieth century, James Reese Europe emerged as the most renowned bandleader of New York's entertainment world. Famed for his syncopated orchestral accompaniment of the dancing team of Irene and Vernon Castle, Europe became a major figure in promoting the popularity of social dancing and engendered a ragtime-based music that contributed to the emergence of jazz. During World War I, his 369th Infantry Band the “Hell Fighters,” was hailed by French and American troops as the finest ensemble in the Allied Army.
James Reese Europe was born on February 22, 1880, in Mobile, Alabama. When Europe was nine years old his family moved to Washington, D.C., where he received formal piano instruction from his mother, and studied his father's improvisational skills on fiddle and banjo. At Washington's respected M. Street High School, Europe joined the school drill company and served as the corps color sergeant. After school the young man helped organize church concerts at Lincoln Memorial Church and presented violin recitals with his sister, Mary. When his father died, 19-year-old Europe sought to support the family by becoming a professional musician.