A Brief History of New Orleans Music

Updated on November 17, 2017
harrynielsen profile image

Music is a diverse form of expression that takes in many styles. It's a popular field that can only be briefly sampled in a short article.

Preservation Hall

Preservation Hall in the Vieux Carre has been a popular venue for Dixieland performers for many decades
Preservation Hall in the Vieux Carre has been a popular venue for Dixieland performers for many decades

Music From the Big Easy

New Orleans has been putting out good music for a long time. Travel there today and on any given day, you can take in all kinds of tunes and styles. The music is everywhere. You can hear it in the bars and clubs, at church, or out on the street. And then once a year, late in the winter season, the whole city goes all out with floats parades, marching bands, and a whole variety of musical expression. Even the pro NFL football team has within its name an unmistakable reference to an old and very popular spiritual, "When the Saints Go Marchin' In."

Marching Bands

St. Augustine's HS in New Orleans has a popular marching band that participates in many parades
St. Augustine's HS in New Orleans has a popular marching band that participates in many parades

The Place Where All New Orleans Music Is Measured

No way around it, Louis Armstrong is the kingpin of New Orleans music. Even though he left the city for greener pastures when he was relatively young, nearly every musician to perform in the city owes at least a little debt to the vastly creative and entertaining trumpet player.

In 1923 Joseph "King" Oliver in Chicago had heard about Louis's talent and sent for him so he could join "King" Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. Joseph served as an excellent mentor for the New Orleans native. As it turned out, the musical talent of Louis Armstrong was so great that he dominated every band he played in until, of course, he formed his own band.

Satchmo

Louis Armstrong was also known by his childhood nickname, Satchmo
Louis Armstrong was also known by his childhood nickname, Satchmo

Satchmo

"Satchmo" is a childhood nickname for Louis Armstrong that stayed with the performer throughout his life. It is an abbreviation for two words, satchel and mouth, which together, were often used to describe Louis when he was young. All they meant was that the New Orleans jazz artist had a very big mouth. As it turned out, one ideal for playing the trumpet and the cornet.

Before Satchmo

In the late 1800s, jazz bands abounded in the city of New Orleans. Many of the musicians were French-descended people of color. Often the musicians had some training and could read music. Not only did they play for many of the wealthier families in the city, but also could found entertaining the working classes at social events.

From this milieu, a few talented musicians started to receive recognition and fame that would take them to some big venues around the country.

A Real Jazz Funeral

There is nothing quite like a musical sendoff for a New Orleans jazz great
There is nothing quite like a musical sendoff for a New Orleans jazz great | Source

New Orleans During Prohibition

The 18th amendment, better known as Prohibition, had little or no effect on the consumption of alcoholic beverages in New Orleans. With its close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the city became a gateway for bootleggers and smugglers bringing contraband booze into the country from Mexico and the Caribbean.

Not surprisingly, the good life continued during Prohibition, especially for America's newly affluent and upwardly mobile younger population. This colorful time period in our nation's history was also known as the Jazz Age, due partly to the success and popularity of the New Orleans style jazz bands, similar to one that Louis Armstrong joined when he went to Chicago.

Strangely enough, the Jazz Age may have been most avidly celebrated in places like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago rather than the city from where the music originated. To emphasize this point you might want to take a listen to Arkansas native Louis Jordan sing about a wild party gone bad in New Orleans.

P.S. Louis Jordan's Saturday Night Fish Fry has been described as being one of the very first Rock n Roll songs.

Saturday Night Fish Fry

After Satchmo

When Louis Armstrong left New Orleans, he took a piece of the city with him. In the wake of his absence, New Orleans music hummed and simmered, but failed to produce any great musical talent until after WWII had come to an end. During the time between the wars, Prohibition was passed and repealed, but the parades still went on the bands still played and thanks to a host of enterprising bootleggers, the booze continued to flow.

After the Big One

After WWII, the music scene came alive again producing a number of performers, who could cut a good record and fill a local night club or a music hall. Not only that, but the old biases against musicians of color were slowly eroding away so that upcoming stars such as Fats Domino, Dave Bartholomew and the Dixie Cups could more often play to mixed audiences. And then there was always the formidable presence of Louis Armstrong, who despite the fact that he no longer lived in the Crescent City, still cast a huge shadow over the Big Easy music scene.

Yellow Moon by the Neville Brothers

The New Orleans Piano Men

Henry Roeland "Roy" Byrd, better known, as "Professor Longhair", was the first of many fine New Orleans piano players that continues to this day. Though not the first "piano man" to come out of the Big Easy, "Fess", as many locals called him was definitely one of the most colorful and influential. With a style that has been described as part-Caribbean, part boogie-woogie and part rhythm and blues, Professor Longhair created a unique and popular style of piano playing that has influenced many musicians such as Huey "Piano" Smith, James Booker, Doctor John and most recently the one lady of the group Marcia Ball.

Professor Longhair, Doctor John, Earl King and the Meters

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Begun in 1970 as a one weekend event that cost only three dollars for the entire show, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has grown to a major event that attracts hundreds of thousands of music lovers. After a couple of low key festivals at Congo Square, the popular event was moved to Fair Grounds Race Track in Old Gentilly. Then, several years later, a limited edition silk screen poster was issued for each gathering and the quickly the crowds began to grow. With the help of Shell Oil, the jazz and heritage fest survived Katrina and remains a lively part of the city's entertainment calendar.

My Take

I lived in the Crescent City (early to mid 80s) for seven years and as an outsider dwelling in the city, I was amazed at how rich the music heritage really was. One of the best ways to gauge this musical diversity was to tune in to one of the local radio stations that played nothing but New Orleans music. Over the course of many listening hours, it was rare to hear a song played twice, for the music that just kept rolling. Though New Orleans and Southern Louisiana lack the big name stars, the large number of high quality musicians that are hardly known outside the region is astounding.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Harry Nielsen

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://spinditty.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)