The Kennedy Center

The 369th Experience


Before there was Duke Ellington, George Gershwin or Dizzy Gillespie there was James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hell fighters Marching Band – America’s most famous African American military band. The 369th Harlem Rattlers, also known as the Harlem Hell fighters, became one of the longest-serving, most decorated units of World War One. The band introduced ragtime, big band, and jazz to the warfront and the world. The 369th Experience, an official program of the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission, is an historic series of global programs, acknowledging, educating, and preserving the legacy of the American, African American and Puerto Rican men who served, the leadership that inspired them, and the communities from which they came.

Our goal is to honor these soldiers by celebrating their contributions to the world and to music by assembling a reenactment band consisting of
African American and Puerto Rican male students from 13 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the United States. The
band has learned the original band’s history and repertoire. They will perform at centennial celebrations in New York City, Brest and Paris,
France; and a host of other historical locales including Washington, DC.

The 369th Experience will specifically commemorate the 369th Regimental Band, its director, James Reese Europe, and Drum Major and
Vocalist Noble Sissle. Today these two soldiers from the 369th are regarded as pivotal figures in the development of jazz, shaping not only
the music of the time but of later generations as well. The famous Harlem Hell Fighters regimental band’s spirited arrangements of ragtime,
big band and jazz first introduced European audiences to the novel sounds of this American music.

The 369th Experience’s goal is to reach more than 10 million Generation Z students and millennials through our programs and interactive
activities. We will also share curriculum resources, study guides and teachers’ guides with more than 600,000 educators and scholars through
the HISTORY Channel’s e-mail newsletters. The history and the repertoire of the 369th and other African American soldiers from World
War One will be shared with students of all ages and libraries and museums across the nation through the study of historical accounts,
literature, poetry, and a unique musical experience reenacting the historic 369th Infantry Regimental marching band.

Each aspect of the educational initiative will delve into history through an interdisciplinary approach exploring connections between history,
literature, and the arts to bring stories of a hundred years ago to reality for the youth of today. We will explore the aesthetic and cultural
transformation of Jazz in the World War One era through educational partnerships in America and with Europeans students world-wide.
Our programs are perfectly aligned with the Kennedy Center’s strategic focus areas like African Americans, HBCUs, military and veterans’ causes.
These are performances with a purpose! The 369th Regiment charmed the hearts and minds of Americans and Europeans. Their contributions
are an integral part of not just black history, but American history.

Watch Past Performances

Video 11/12/2018: The 369th Experience

The 369th Experience is a band of musicians from a collection of HBCU’s paying tribute to the contributions of African Americans and Puerto Ricans in World War I through the eyes of the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as James Reese Europe’s Harlem Hell fighters.

This performance was selected by Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz Jason Moran.

 The 369th Experience