Famous Negro band greets United States soldiers on leave from trenches, 1918. National Archives


In the early 1900s, discrimination against African-Americans was ubiquitous. African-American composer, conductor, and organizer, Lieutenant James “Jim” Reese Europe acted as a champion for black musicians through a series of vital contributions. As founder of the Clef Club, Europe formed one of the first labor unions and contracting agencies for black entertainers. During WWI, he introduced jazz to the European continent. Lieutenant Europe opened countless doors for African-American musicians, paving the way for a period of black excellence during the Jazz Age.

Jazz band leader back with 15th. Lieutenant James Reese Europe[...]returns from battle[...], 1919. National Archives

James Reese Europe "Memphis Blues" (W. C. Handy) Pathe, 1919. Tim Gracyk

"In this occupation, as in all other desirable ones here in America, the Negro’s color is a handicap, and wherever he achieves success he does so in the face of doubly severe competition."

-James Reese Europe, 1914