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Europe's Society Orchestra

James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra
1916 or 1917

Vernon and Irene Castle were dancers who made a name for themselves in Europe performing Ragtime dances like the Texas Tommy, the Turkey Trot and the Grizzly Bear in front of a wealthy, continental crowd. They returned to America in the fall of 1913 and found that social dancing was the rage; their act went over well among the wealthy elite in New York City.

The dances that the Castles (who were White) performed were of African-American origin and required syncopated music of a type that few New York bands were playing at the time. After seeing James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra perform at a private party in the Fall of 1913 Vernon asked if Europe would be interested in accompanying the Castles’ dance exhibitions. He accepted the offer and Europe’s band began providing the music for the Castles’ act.

The Castles were hot and opened a dance school called The Castle House and also a supper club called San Souci. Both ventures were quite successful and Europe’s Society Orchestra provided the music. This led to Europe’s Society Orchestra being offered a recording contract with Victor records which resulted in the recordings on this page. This was the first time that an African-American Orchestra was offered a contract with a major American record company.

Vernon and Irene CastleIn January of 1914 the Castles landed an engagement at the Palace Theater and Hammersteins’ Victoria Theatre in New York City. These venues were considered the height of show business at the time. A problem arose when the segregated musician’s union objected to Europe’s Society Orchestra (who were African-American) performing in the orchestra pit with the regular White orchestra. The Castles insisted that Europe’s Orchestra accompany them and solved the racial impasse by having the band sit on-stage rather than in the orchestra pit. This was the first time that an African-American orchestra performed at the first class New York Vaudeville theatres.

The music of Europe’s Society Orchestra is not Jazz, it is Ragtime. Nevertheless, Europe was an important transitional figure in the development of Jazz. He broke down racial barriers and helped to popularize African-American musical styles in New York City in the years before World War I. James Reese Europe would achieve even greater recognition during and after World War I with his 369th Infantry “Hellfighters” Band. See: Lt. James Reese Europe: Songs Brought Back from the Battlefield

Thanks to Carl Rose and Stephen Galleher for their help with this page.


TitleRecording DateRecording LocationCompany
Amapa – Maxixe Bresilien
(Le Vrai)

(Juca Storoni)
12-29-1913New York, New YorkVictor
Castle House Rag
(Castles In Europe)

(James Reese Europe)
2-10-1914New York, New YorkVictor
Castle’s Lame Duck
(James Reese Europe)
2-10-1914New York, New YorkVictor
Castle Walk
(James Reese Europe / Ford Dabney)
2-10-1914New York, New YorkVictor
Down Home Rag
(Wilbur Sweatman)
12-29-1913New York, New YorkVictor
El Irresistible – Tango Argentine
(Lorenzo Logatti)
12-29-1913New York, New YorkVictor
Too Much Mustard
(Cecil Macklin)
12-29-1913New York, New YorkVictor
You’re Here And I’m Here
(from “Laughing Husband”)

(Jerome D. Kern)
2-10-1914New York, New YorkVictor

Edgar CampbellClarinet
Tracy CooperViolin
James Reese EuropeLeader
Buddy GilmoreDrums
Ford DabneyPiano
Walker ScottViolin
Cricket SmithCornet
George SmithViolin
Leonard SmithPiano
5 unknownBanjo


A Life In Ragtime; A Biography of James Reese Europe, by R. Reed Badger, Oxford University Press, 1995
The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace , by David Gilbert, University of North Carolina Press, 2015


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