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RAGTIME WARRIOR

A FORGOTTEN MUSICAL GENIUS! James Reese Europe fights racism, Army prejudice and the Germans when he takes command of the “Harlem Hellfighters” band, introduces jazz and pop tunes; he revolutionizes military band music forever. A WW1 action musical biopic; all music public domain. Can be adapted to TV miniseries. Professional Coverage: “Recommend” Dave Trottier (Author “The Screenwriter’s Bible.”) OFFICIAL FINALIST - New York Screenplay Competition

JAMES REESE EUROPE, an African-American musician/composer, comes to New York City in 1913 and forms the “Clef Club”, a highly successful union supplying black musicians for New York City high society events. He partners with true life musicians Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, and singer Bessie Smith who becomes Europe’s lover.

Europe ultimately becomes the exclusive band leader for Vernon and Irene Castle, the internationally famous dance team. The Clef Club eventually performs at Carnegie Hall, the first all-Negro orchestra to so. James Reese Europe is acknowledged to be the most well-known conductor/composer in America at that time.

With the outbreak of World War 1, Europe puts his career on hold to join the newly formed all-black 369th Infantry Division -- destined to become the famed New York “Harlem Hellfighters” -- and forms their military band. He intends to use the band as an instrument to improve the living conditions and future hopes of Harlem’s young men.

Under the command of white Colonel William Hayward, the 369th Infantry Division overcomes ridicule, racism and indifference from the U. S Army. Europe remakes the military band using modern music dynamics and popular songs and jazz

The band is honored to play at a benefit for President Woodrow Wilson where Europe cleverly rebuffs an attempt by an Army officer to replace his black soloist with a white one.

During Army training in South Carolina, black soldiers under Europe’s command refuse to be provoked by white red neck racists. White soldiers take up the defense of their black comrades in a rollicking, glorious fight against the red necks.

After disembarking in France, Europe’s clever musicianship and use of the band keeps the brigade from being assigned to stevedore duty. The band performs, and fights, bravely and heroically during the war to great acclaim. Throughout the war Europe stays in touch with Bessie Smith who has now born his son and is managing the Clef Club in New York.

While serving on the front lines, Europe is wounded in “The Battle of Henry Johnson,” a famous WW I Medal of Honor incident. Though confined to the hospital he writes his famous song “Out In No Man’s Land.” The war ends and Europe returns to Bessie and his son, and leads the Harlem Hellfighters in a triumphant parade up New York’s Fifth Avenue.

The fame of the band leads to a recording contract and Europe takes the band on a nation-wide tour. During the tour he is tragically murdered by one of his bandsmen. His funeral service is conducted at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Script Excerpt
Written by:
Format:
Screenplay
Budget:
Mid
Starring Roles For:
30s African-American
30's Female Africa-American
30s African-American
In the Vein Of:
SERGEANT YORK
STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER
Posted:
08/02/2015
Updated:
07/05/2020
Author Bio:
Jim Saunders is a New York City-based professional writer, playwright, optioned screenplay writer and multiple contest winner. He has many years’ experience writing stage presentations, corporate films and multimedia projects; also a director and occasional actor.

Screenplays

Jim specializes in screenplays based on historical true events (including musicals), bio/pics and/or disasters. In alphabetical order:

“BOJANGLES, EUBIE AND BERT!” Three black musical legends of the past – Bert Williams, Eubie Blake and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson – relive their show business success in spite of racism and theatrical bigotry.

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Contest Results:
New York Screenplay (Finalist) [2013]