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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Re: Harlem Hellfighters
In Response To: Harlem Hellfighters ()

Dear Lee:

Don't let that picture out of your sight! Lucky you for having such a wonderful family record.

I highly recommend the book "A Life in Ragtime" A Biography of James Reese Europe, by Reid Badger. Oxford University Press, 1995. If you can't find a copy let me know. I can recommend a free book search company that can get it for you.

It is one of the most fascinating books that I've ever read. Reid Badger was a professor at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. I haven't spoken to Reid in quite a long time, so I don't know if he is still there. His notes are incredible resources for more research.

James Reese Europe as you know was the leader of the 369th band. He was born in Mobile in 1880 and was tragically killed in May 1919 in New York, four months after the 369th led the Great War's Victory Parade up Fifth Avenue.

The 369th band has been called the first to bring jazz to Europe. Many jazz historians would beg to differ. They do agree that the Nine's band was ONE of the first bands to introduce America's only original art form to Europe.

I looked for George Rayford in Badger's book but couldn't find it. The drummers listed are Steve Wright, Herbert Wright, Whitney Viney and Karl Kenny. By the way, it was Herbert Wright who stabbed Europe in a fit of rage.

Please note that not all the band members went to Europe with the 369th Regiment. For instance Arthur Briggs jazz expatriate didn't go but he was a member of the Nine. This could be the reason why your relative doesn't appear in Badger's book.

I was introduced to the 369th and its history by filmmaker Bill Miles. His documentary, "Men of Bronze" is one of his best films.

There is a huge bronze bas-relief on the right wall as you enter the 369th Armory that depicts the men of the Nine and their service on the battlefields of France. A distribution company on the West Coast may have copies of it. The film ends with Ray Charles singing "America" accompanied by a "gospel flavored organ" as the sons of the Nine step up Fifth Avenue.

Try a search for Men of Bronze and you will find the distributor.

One last tip: Do searches on Europe, Sissle and research the New York Age. You will find information on the band.

Many of the histories of Harlem begin with the story of the 369th Regiment coming home from the Great War and their victory march Uptown.

Best regards,

K Wyer Lane

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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