A Life in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe
Last updated: 06.08.17
Hardcover, 328 pages, (January 1995)
James Reese Europe was a pivotal composer-conductor who helped jazz's evolution away from ragtime--a significant-enough accomplishment, especially considering Reese's relatively short life (he was murdered at 39 in 1919). But Badger's engrossing biography proves that Europe was an American hero both in front of and far away from an orchestra. Badger's analyses of Europe's compositions are well-informed and suitably augmented with commentary from such notable collaborators as Eubie Blake. Badger shows, too, that Europe helped restyle modern dance through his collaborations with Vernon and Irene Castle; and he includes chapters on the Clef Club, one of the earliest African American musicians' unions, which Europe helped create. Europe's career took an incredible turn during World War I, an episode Badger carefully details: while the triumphs of the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment are legendary, few know that Europe was the first African American officer to lead troops in combat during the war. A Life in Ragtime
is one of the most important works of jazz scholarship to emerge in quite some time. Aaron Cohen
From Kirkus Reviews
Badger (American Studies/Univ. of Alabama) restores an important, forgotten chapter in African-American musical history. Europe was one of the pioneering composers, bandleaders, and musical factotums in turn-of-the-century America. Raised in Washington, D.C., he was exposed to a rich musical life in church, home, and public concerts. Around 1903, he left the capital for New York City (where his older brother was established as a theatrical pianist) and was soon working as a bandleader, arranger, etc.