Black History: Special Delivery!!
James Reese Europe (1881 – 1919) was born in Mobile Alabama. Europe’s father was previously enslaved. His parents were both musicians; with his mother reading music and his father only playing by ear. The family relocated to Washington DC in 1889 where his father worked for the post office. At the age of 14, he entered a music writing competition and won second place. At the age of 22, Europe made New York City, his new home. He also composed music for the group, “Memphis Students” while there. During his time with the Memphis Students, but without his knowledge, Europe influenced George Gershwin. Gershwin recalled sitting outside of the club in Harlem as a seven year old boy listening to James Europe play.
In 1910, Europe co-founded “The Clef Club”. The Clef Club was in part, a fraternal organization for African American musicians. It also served as talent agency and trade union for African American musicians. The Clef Club purchased a building on W. 53rd Street in New York City. The location served as both a club and a booking office. James Europe was its first elected president and symphony orchestra conductor. In 1912, The Clef Club Orchestra performed at Carnegie Hall to rave reviews. This performance was also hailed as having a positive influence on race relations. It was the first African American jazz band to play at Carnegie Hall. The orchestra featured approximately 125-150 musicians playing for a diverse crowd of black and white patrons. The orchestra’s performances at Carnegie Hall gave them wide acclaim with white society and opened up opportunities for them to perform at other elite functions in New York, London, and Paris. The Clef Club not only supported musicians but other entertainers as well; thereby helping to improve working conditions for many of them. It was common at that time, that musicians would often be hired as waiters and bartenders who, might also provide musical entertainment. When a musical entertainer, or group was hired through The Clef Club, they were hired solely as entertainers and were paid a salary, transportation expenses, and lodging.