Jazz may have been born in New Orleans, but grew up around the world. It made its path abroad in 1918, during the “Great War” when one black officer, Lieutenant James Reese Europe, bravely volunteered for military service with members of his Harlem Society Orchestra. They formed the 369th Regimental Band, yet because the U.S. Army did not allow black soldiers to fight alongside white soldiers, the valiant soldiers were attached to the French—and earned the moniker of “Hellfighters,” along with the French Croix de Guerre for their heroism.
The Harlem Hellfighters brought with them one of America’s most enduring exports: jazz. From Paris, the music spread around the globe and soon united generations of people—young and old, rich and poor, black and white, friends and foes—in what would become the rhythm of the 20th century.
"I Want You" Poster; Gary Kelley; illustration (inspired by American illustrator James Montgomery Flagg's iconic watercolor image of "Uncle Sam"); from Harlem Hellfighters, by J. Patrick Lewis & Gary Kelley, Creative Editions, 2014; Illustration copyright © 2014 Gary Kelley, courtesy of the artist.