MANHATTAN, N.Y. (PIX11) — The upcoming musical “Harlem Hellfighters on a Latin Beat,” set to open during Hispanic Heritage Month, tells the true but little-known story of the 17 Puerto Rican musician soldiers who joined one of the most celebrated regiments of World War I.
They joined the all-Black 369th infantry, bringing together iconic musical artists including James Reese Europe, Rafael Hernandez, and Rafael Duchesne. The musical focuses on Europe, the first Black man to conduct at Carnegie Hall, and his quest to find the best musicians in Puerto Rico for his band in 1917.
“James Reese Europe lands in Puerto Rico, travels to recruit musicians for the 15th band,” Rosalbo Rolon, the director, said. “They were called the Hellfighters much later in France. Each segment of the band began to offer the best of what they had. The first beats of Latin jazz, the passion behind the jazz.”
This is also a labor of love for the Puerto Rican musical director Desmar Guevara.
“The musicians who came before us paved the way for me to be here today,” Guevara, who was born in Puerto Rico, but has been living in New York City, told PIX11 News. “For me to be here directing, I am thankful to them.”
The lead actor playing the legendary James Reese Europe is also passionate about this production.
“It is a badge of honor to play a Black man who made such a significant contribution to music in our country,” Calvin Thompson, the actor playing James Reese Europe, told PIX11 News. “It’s beautiful to see how Black and brown people came together to create magic out of nothing.”
“Harlem Hellfighters on a Latin Beat” opens at Pregones Puerto Rican Traveling Theater on Oct. 6 and runs through the 23rd.