Place of the Month

369th Regiment Armory

The 369th Regiment Armory stands on Fifth Avenue between 142nd and 143rd Streets in Upper Manhattan, just off Harlem River Drive. The hulking red brick colossus was originally built to house the 369thInfantry Regiment following World War I, and is still used to this day by the 369th Sustainment Brigade of the New York Army National Guard. Today, the building serves as a place for the 369th Sustainment Brigade to meet, train, and prepare for deployment – as well as a massive monument to the men who fought and died in World War I. 

The 369th Infantry Regiment, the first all-African American military unit to see combat during World War I.  Stationed in France, the regiment served longer than any other. American unit and was said to have never lost a foot of ground or a man to capture. Known for its indomitable bravery, the regiment was given many sensationalist nicknames, the most enduring was the “Harlem Hellfighters.”

Colonel William Hayward, who lead the 369th, was hopeful that the 369th might see battle because the unit had one of the greatest military bands in the U.S. Army at a time when soldiers desperately needed music for morale. Led by renowned African American musician, composer, and bandleader, Lieutenant James Reese Europe, the 369th Regiment Band is widely credited with introducing live jazz music to the Continent. On the eve of WW I, Lieutenant Europe was tasked with forming an all-Black military band. Reed instrument players able to read music and willing to enlist were scarce in New York, but Puerto Rico’s tradition of municipal bands with trained musicians of African American ancestry enticed Europe to the Island, where he recruited eighteen Afro-Puerto Ricans for the regiment. The many municipal bands that played throughout the island were made up of some of the island’s finest musicians, who could play various instruments. Subsequently, a third of the regimental band was comprised of Afro-Puerto Ricans who would not only to leave their mark during their military service, but some would settle in New York after the war, changing Latin music forever. Among the many distinguished musicians was one who would become an internationally celebrated composer, Rafael Hernández. While overseas, the band introduced European audiences--particularly in France--to live jazz music. In 1917, the band played in twenty-five French cities, performing for both French civilians and Allied soldiers who were at first astonished and then entranced by the music they heard. The experience ultimately influenced the careers of notable musicians including Hernandez, as well as jazz greats Noble Sissle, Charles “Lucky” Roberts, and Frances Eugene Mikall.

 

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369th Regiment Armory