Oppy: the life of a rover
Big Daddy’s last dance
Subscribe today to support our mission and contributors. A color reproduction of a photograph by Syndey Byrd of a second line parade. N ew Orleans is a city of parades, most famously the Mardi Gras processions that roll down the wide boulevards of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street during Carnival season, but in all the seasons and in every neighborhood there are jazz funerals and parades known as second lines that fill the backstreets with a joyful noise. On Sunday afternoons from September through May, African American forms of music, dance, and dress are put on display in parades that have become symbolic of New Orleans and its association with festivity and pleasure. The upbeat tone of second line parades originates in the distinctive local tradition of jazz funerals. Though funerals would seem an unlikely source for such a festive tradition, the jazz funeral celebrates life at the moment of death—a concept common among many cultures until the twentieth century. In , architect Benjamin Latrobe witnessed a continuance of this tradition at a black funeral in New Orleans.
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The tradition of the New Orleans jazz funeral has fallen away somewhat in the wake of Hurricane Katrina but has not been forgotten. Although the wild music and dancing have, historically, flown in the face of prevailing sentiments about the required solemnity of the traditional memorial service, the New Orleans jazz funeral grew throughout the 20th century to achieve its own respected standing among the many ways to commemorate the passage of a loved one. The music and dancing of the jazz funeral were intended to both help the deceased find their way to heaven and to celebrate the final release from the bounds of earthly life, which had, in the past, included the release from slavery. The call-and-response style of music and chant, coupled with tambourines, drums, music, and dancing were elements of African funeral ceremonies which crossed the seas with captive slaves.
Funeral customs vary widely across the globe. Different religions and different cultures bury their dead according to customs that have developed over hundreds — even thousands — of years. Of all the funeral customs and traditions across the globe, one that transcends cultures the most is the New Orleans Jazz Funeral. It is now exported or at least elements of it are around the world. In , French explorers sailed up the Mississippi river looking for a suitable area of dry land to build a port. Their choice of land developed into the city of New Orleans. Ever since New Orleans has always been a bit different from most other cities. Bordered by swamp on three sides and the Mississipi on the other, its highest point was only 6 feet above river level.