Many Americans are familiar with some of the famous persons from World War I era, known at the time as the “Great War.” We think of: Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. president who took the country to war 100 years ago; or John “Black Jack” Pershing, the general Wilson appointed to lead the American war effort; or even Sergeant Alvin York, an American hero of the war memorably portrayed by Gary Cooper in the classic movie. All three of these well-known persons will be portrayed on stage in this year’s 19th Prairieland Chautauqua, themed “America and the Great War,” commemorating the 100th anniversary of our nation’s entry into World War I.
Few people, however, will know of James Reese Europe, who, as an officer with an African-American National Guard unit from New York that came to be known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” created a genuine sensation in wartime France. The Hellfighters became one of the most decorated fighting units in the war and Jim Europe and the amazing band of musicians he led were celebrated for the unique brand of music with which they entertained a war-weary people behind the battle lines.
Springfield actor Kess Roberson will bring to life on Jacksonville’s Chautauqua stage the brilliant and tragic career of James Reese Europe on Sunday evening, September 3 at 5 p.m. This will be one of the (12) one-hour programs offered over the Saturday through Monday of Labor Day weekend at the comfortable, air-conditioned auditorium of First Christian Church on South Main Street.
The family-friendly Prairieland Chautauqua is free and open to the public. Performances run from 4 until 9 p.m., with a 6-7 p.m. dinner break. Meals from Hamilton’s Catering at a cost of $10 per person may be reserved by contacting the Hamilton’s location in Franklin, by phone not later than noon on Friday at 217-675-2720. Contact for additional questions: Dave Truesdell at 217-245-2285. (See printed schedule of programs elsewhere in this issue of The Source.)