Curated by Loren Schoenberg, Senior Scholar at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem

James Reese Europe was a seminal composer and bandleader of the early 20th century, a Black musician known for his artistry, leadership, and business acumen in equal measure. He was a key figure in the development of ragtime music into jazz and the popularization of social dance among all classes. Europe was also a trailblazer in the music industry with his vision for the Clef Club, an orchestra, union, and contracting agency for Black musicians, which he formed in 1910. During World War I, he assembled the military band that was part of the 369th Regiment, an all-Black unit that was better known as the Harlem Hell Fighters. The ensemble toured continental Europe, delighting audiences as it introduced jazz music overseas. In 1919, James Reese Europe returned to the U.S. and was welcomed as a hero. As he embarked on a stateside tour with the Hell Fighters band, his life was tragically cut short at age 38.

Join us for a conversation with leading artists and scholars about the life and impact of this iconic figure, whose influence on music and the industry echoed far beyond his time.


  • Loren Schoenberg (Founding Director and Senior Scholar, National Jazz Museum in Harlem)


  • Jerome Jennings (Drummer, Activist, Bandleader and Historian)
  • Adriane Lentz-Smith (Associate Professor of History and African & African-American Studies, Duke University)
  • Steven Lewis (Curator of Music and Performing Arts, Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History & Culture)

Part of Legacies of San Juan Hill, an ongoing project that aims to uplift the history, communities, and cultural legacy of the Manhattan neighborhoods that existed in and around the area where Lincoln Center was built. To learn more, visit:

This conversation was filmed at Lincoln Center on March 19, 2024.