WWI's 369th Regimental Band and The 369th Experience Tribute Band

The Harlem Hellfighters, the 369th Infantry Regiment, had a renowned regimental band in WWI, led by James Reese Europe. They are credited with introducing Jazz to Europe.

This is the story of the 369th Infantry Regiment's famed regimental band credited with bringing "Jazz" to Europe.

And it is the story of the "The 369th Experience", a tribute orchestra organized out of HBCU (Historically Black College and University) students to honor and remember the music of the original.

Content Warning: Please note that the captions on the archive images reflect the language of the times. As these documents are scanned directly from the War Department, they are left "as is" to provide an accurate historical picture.

The 369th Regimental Band comes home from WWI

The 369th infantry arrive home from WWI, landing on February 10, 1919 at Hoboken, N.J. having sailed on the U.S.A. Transport "Stockholm". The 369th Regimental Band as well as the soldiers of the 369th, had achieved acclaim and fame during their service in France.

Famous Colored Regiment Arrives Home on the "Stockholm." (1919-02-10) by Photographer: Underwood and UnderwoodThe Doughboy Foundation

Sailing into Hoboken aboard the USA Transport "Stockholm"

For the majority of American troops, going "over there" was beyond anything they had ever imagined. Many had life-changing experiences, and coming home would bring changed men and women back to the land they left. 

America's troop transport in WWI

Many transport ships used to move soldiers and equipment to Europe were far from luxurious.
America did not have time to build ships and simply pressed whatever would float into service. This included captured enemy ships in U.S. harbors when war was declared.

COLORED JAZZ BAND AND LEADER BACK WITH COLORED 15TH N.Y. (1919-02-17) by Photographer: Underwood and UnderwoodThe Doughboy Foundation

The 369th's Regimental Band was aboard the Stockholm

James Reese Europe was a  well known NY dance band leader before the war.
He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 369th and ordered to form a regimental band. It became the toast of the "Continent" as they introduced syncopated rhythms and  jazz to thunderstruck audiences.

The band consisted of 65 black and Puerto Rican musicians, recruited specifically for their ability to play.

Famous Negro Band Greets U.S. Soldiers on Leave From Trenches (1918-02-01) by International Film ServiceThe Doughboy Foundation

Entertaining the public and the troops on leave

As WWI raged on the Western Front, the 369th Regimental Band's very important job was to lift the spirits of the Allied soldiers on leave, and the war weary populations in France.

Here is the 369th Regimental Band in Aix Du Bains, to greet a trainload of fighting men taking a break from the trenches of the front line.

369th playing at Hospital No 9 in Paris (1918-09-04) by Lt. G.E. Stone, S.C.The Doughboy Foundation

Lifting the spirits of the wounded

By September 1918, the defining giant battles were underway on the front.
Here in Paris, the 369th Regimental Band strikes up their swings and rhythms in front of the Red Cross Base Hospital No. 9.

Great Ambassadors

Even General Pershing, the American General of the Armies requested the ever more famous band,  and had them play as a symbol of America's participation in the war! 

James Reese Sheet Music Cover (1919-05-01)The Doughboy Foundation

Sheet music from James Reese Europe post war

This is the sheet music from two tunes that James Reese Europe published after he returned stateside.

Note the writing credits that include Noble Sessle and Ubie Blake - two names that whose careers would continue.

100 years later, the 369th Experience was formed to introduce the spirit of the 369th Regimental Band to a new generation of Americans and others.

369th experience logo (2018-11-11) by Logo design from the 369th ExperienceThe Doughboy Foundation

The "369th Experience" Tribute Orchestra

The idea was to gather musicians from HBCU's (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and form "The 369th Experience" as a revival tribute to WWI's 369th Regimental Band.

A tireless promoter, Ms. Stephanie Neal brought the vision into reality by 2016.

369th Experience plays "Chicago Darktown Strutter's Ball"

This November 11, 2018 performance at the then "future site of the National WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C." was organized for the centennial anniversary of the WWI Armistice.

359th experience at Rockefeller Center (2019-05-25) by Catherine Williamson Images for U.S. WWI Centennial CommissionThe Doughboy Foundation

369th Experience Tribute Band marches in NYC

100 years after the 369th regimental band led the 1919 homecoming parade down 5th Ave, in March of 2019 the 369th tribute band marched again in the same neighborhood, heading to Rockefeller Center where they played a WWI repertoire jazz concert for an enthusiastic New York crowd.

369th experience at Rockefeller Center (2019-05-25) by Jason DeCrow/AP Images for U.S. WWI Centennial CommissionThe Doughboy Foundation

It felt like a circle had been completed

100 years after Lt. "Jimmie Europe" created this quintessential American experience and took the spirt of jazz to France, these young men, who are about the same age of the original 369th Regimental Band members, brought this same spirit back to the city that birthed it.

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