Concert Band

Here are four Black band leaders who helped shape American music

Lt. James Europe, far left, returns home from Europe with his regiment, the 369th Infantry Band, on the SS Stockholm.Underwood & Underwood/Library of Congress

February 11, 2021

From military to minstrel, and big band to jazz, Black band leaders have helped shape the urban soundscapes in America throughout our history. Here are four worth checking out.

'Castles in Europe' — James Reese Europe

During World War I, James Reese Europe obtained a commission in the New York Army National Guard to organize the 369th Infantry Regiment into the famous Harlem Hellfighters band that toured alongside the French Army.

'The Governor's Own March' — Alton A. Adams

Alton A. Adams is remembered primarily as the first Black band leader in the U.S. Navy. The military branch has rediscovered his music, which was performed by the bands of John Philip Sousa and Edwin Franko Goldman.

'The Grave of the Slave' — Francis Johnson, words by Sarah Forten

Francis Johnson was the first African American to have his music published as sheet music. While visiting England, he played for Queen Victoria, who presented him with a silver bugle.

'Gulf Coast Blues' — W.C Handy

"Many minstrel men joined army bands, and the army bands in turn gave the minstrels better musicians," W.C. Handy said. "Everything was on the upgrade, musically speaking."