A Life in Ragtime
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A Life in Ragtime : A Biography of James Reese Europe

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In 1919, the world stood at the threshold of the Jazz Age. The man who had ushered it there, however, lay murdered - and would soon plunge from international fame to historical obscurity. It was a fate few would have predicted for James Reese Europe; he was then at the pinnacle of his career as a composer, conductor, and organizer in the black community, with the promise of even greater heights to come. "People don't realize yet today what we lost when we lost Jim Europe," said pianist Eubie Blake. "He was the savior of Negro musiciansin a class with Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King." In A Life in Ragtime , Reid Badger brilliantly captures this fascinating life, tracing a critical chapter in the emergence of jazz through one man's remarkable odyssey. After an early start in Washington, Europe found his fame in New York, the entertainment capital of turn-of-the-century America. In the decade before the First World War, he emerged as an acknowledged leader in African-American musical theater, both as a conductor and an astonishingly prolific composer. Badger reveals a man of tremendous depths and ambitions, constantly aspiring to win recognition for black musicians and wider acceptance for their music. He toiled constantly, working on benefit concerts, joining hands with W.E.B. Du Bois, and helping to found a black music school-all the while winning commercial and critical success with his chosen art. In 1910, he helped create the Clef Club, making it the premiere African-American musical organization in the country during his presidency. Every year from 1912 to 1914, Europe led the Clef Club orchestra in triumphant concerts at Carnegie Hall, winning new respectability and popularity for ragtime. He went on to a tremendously successful collaboration with Vernon and Irene Castle, the international stars who made social dancing a world-wide rage. Along the way, Europe helped to revolutionize American music-and Badger provides fascinating details of his innovations and wide influence. In World War I, the musical pioneer won new fame as the first African-American officer to lead men into combat in that conflict-but he was best known as band leader for the all-black 15th Infantry Regiment. As the "Hellfighters" of the 15th racked up successes on the battlefield, Europe's band took France by storm with the new sounds of jazz. In 1919, the soldiers returned to New York in triumph, and Europe was the toast of the city. Then, just a few months later, he was dead-stabbed to death by a drummer in his own orchestra. From humble beginnings to tragic end, the story of Jim Europe comes alive in Reid Badger's account. Weaving in the wider story of our changing culture, music, and racial conflict, Badger deftly captures the turbulent, promising age of ragtime, and the drama of a triumphant life cut short.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 154.94 x 228.6 x 22.86mm | 498.95g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • halftones
  • 0195337964
  • 9780195337969
  • 1,074,519

Back cover copy

In A Life in Ragtime, Reid Badger brilliantly captures the fascinating life of James Reese Europe, tracing a critical chapter in the emergence of jazz through one man's remarkable odyssey. After an early start in Washington, Europe found his fame in New York, the entertainment capital of turn-of-the-century America. In the decade before the First World War, he emerged as an acknowledged leader in African-American musical theater, both as a conductor and as a prolific composer. Europe toiled constantly, working on benefit concerts, joining hands with W.E.B. Du Bois, and helping to found a black music school - all the while winning commercial and critical success with his music. In 1910, he helped create the Clef Club, making it the premiere African-American musical organization in the country during his presidency. Every year from 1912 to 1914, Europe led the Clef Club orchestra in triumphant concerts at Carnegie Hall, winning new respectability and popularity for ragtime. He went on to an extraordinarily successful collaboration with Vernon and Irene Castle, the international stars who made social dancing a world-wide rage. In World War I, the musical pioneer won new fame as the first African-American officer to lead men into combat in that conflict - but he was best known as band leader for the all-black 15th Infantry Regiment. As the "Hellfighters" of the 15th racked up successes on the battlefield, Europe's band took France by storm with the new sounds of jazz. In 1919, the soldiers returned to New York in triumph, and Europe was the toast of the city. Then, just a few months later, he was dead - stabbed to death by a drummer in his own orchestra. From humble beginnings to tragicend, the story of Jim Europe comes alive in Reid Badger's account.show more

About Reid Badger

Reid Badger is Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the University of Alabama and Adjunct Professor of Humanities at New York University. He is also author of The Great American Fair: The World's Columbian Exhibition and American Culture and co-editor of Alabama and the Borderlands: from Prehistory to Statehood.show more

Review quote

"A definitive, long overdue, and fully documented chronicle of the famous but--until now--frustratingly unknown musical soldier."--Notes"Through meticulous research and passionate narrative, Reid Badger's extraordinary book retrieves James Reese Europe from the dim fringes of American music history and thrusts him into the brilliant center of the theatre, pop, and classical African-American music world which he guided and shapedduring the critical twenty years between Joplin and Armstrong. A charismatic conductor of strumming and choraling classical 'Negro Orchestras', Europe went on to form the first hot dance bands, interpreting the African American rhythms and movements that fueled the first American dance craze. Justbefore his untimely death at age 39, Europe was introducing the latest African-American music called jazz to the amazement of musicians and the public of France during the first World War. A book no American music buff or scholar can be without."--Maurice Peress, symphony conductor and musicologist"A comprehensively researched and superbly narrated biography of one of the most prominent figures responsible for changes in American taste in folk-derived popular music during the first two decades--changes that by the mid-thirties had already begun to produce what (by mid century) added up to abody of jazz masterworks that qualified not only as fine art but also as the music most representative of contemporary sound and movement."--Albert Murray, author of The Omni-Americans: Black Experience and American Culture and Stomping the Blues"One of the most important works of jazz scholarship to emerge in quitesome time."--Booklist"Badger's lucid narrative writing style not only captures in detail the fascinating saga of Europe's life--it also engulfs Europe in the culture and communities in which he lived and worked."--San Francisco Examiner"This compendious biography by Reid Badger...should go a long ways toward restoring Europe to his rightful place in the distinctive African-American--and thus in the definitively American--musical pantheon....This book does the world a service by bringing Europe's name to prominence..."--TheWashington Post Book World"Vividly brings to life an important but hitherto obscure figure in the transition from ragtime to jazz. Badger's biography explains the scope and nature of Jim Europe's achievements and helps us better understand how African-American jazz and blues exploded on the national scene in the1920s."--Lingua Francashow more

Table of contents

Prelude ; 1. Down Home Rag ; 2. Washington Post March ; 3. On the Gay Luneta ; 4. Lorraine Waltzes ; 5. The Clef Club March ; 6. What It Takes to Make Me Love You - You've Got It ; 7. Castle House Rag ; 8. The National Negro March ; 9. Watch Your Step ; 10. The Rat-A-Tat Drummer Boy ; 11. The Separate Battalion ; 12. Over There ; 13. On Patrol in No Man's Land ; 14. Filling France Full of Jazz ; 15. All of No Man's Land is Ours ; 16. Flee as a Bird ; Coda ; Appendix 1: The Musical Compositions of James Reese Europe ; Appendix 2: James Reese Europe Discography ; Notes ; Indexshow more

Rating details

6 ratings
4.16 out of 5 stars
5 50% (3)
4 17% (1)
3 33% (2)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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