What made New Orleans unique in the history of Black American Music?

New Orleans and Black American Music

How did the diverse culture and festivities in New Orleans help in the development and success of Black American music? The city of New Orleans, Louisiana, also known as “The Melting Pot of Sound,” was founded in 1718 and has been very well renowned for its diversity in its; culture, festivities, and music since the early 1900’s. However, the different cultures and festivities are what gave rise to the success of the music it produced, specifically Black American music such as jazz and the blues. All of these characteristics are what made New Orleans so unique in comparison to the rest of the United States. New Orleans was home for the blues and the birthplace for jazz.

Wynton Marsalis says “New Orleans had a great tradition of celebration. Opera, military marching bands, folk music, the blues, different types of church music, ragtime, echoes of traditional African drumming, and all of the dance styles that went with this music could be heard and seen throughout the city. When all of these kinds of music blended into one, jazz was born.”

New Orleans is a place where Black Americans, both slave and free, and American Indians shared their cultures and intermingled with European settlers and people from all over the Caribbean basin. With all these cultures being intertwined, music as well became intertwined. This in-tern resulted into the evolution of music. But how might this cause such success in Black American music? As diverse as New Orleans was, it had a very large African American population. On top of that, African culture tends to include more music and rhythm than most other cultures. Lastly, due to discrimination, it was very difficult for a Black American to get a good job so many became musicians. They would spend their whole lives practicing and creating music and many of them became very successful and famous. As a matter of fact, most famous black jazz musicians were either born in New Orleans or lived there at some point such as Louis Armstrong.

The festivities in New Orleans played a fairly large role in the history of Black American music. Since the festivities were such a big deal in New Orleans this drew in many tourists wanting to be a part of the celebrations. Thanks to the tourists, it was easier for the music to spread across the country faster via live performances, word of mouth, and through the distribution of recorded music. Two major festivities in New Orleans were Mardi Gras and New Years. Mardi Gras is New Orleans’ biggest celebration, with music, dancing, parades, costumes, and many other fun activities. Out of all those activities, music was arguably the most important and valued feature of the city.

The two most popular types of music in New Orleans during the early 1900’s were jazz and the blues. Born in the south, the blues is derived from African American music and expressed pain, lost love, and/or injustices experienced by the Black Americans. It tends to be depressing sounding and has a slower tempo. Here is an example of a typical blues song:


The blues is the foundation of jazz as well as the primary source of rhythm and blues. However, the two are also very different. The main differences between jazz and the blues (other than the instruments used) is that jazz is stronger, more upbeat, happier sounding and is also easier to dance to than the blues. It’s intentions are to lift your spirits. These characteristics are, for the most part, what made the festivities so enjoyable in New Orleans. Here is an example of a typical blues song:


The diverse culture as well as the outstanding festivities of New Orleans played a huge role in the development and success of Black American music. Three things contributed to the success of Black American Music over the many other types of music at the time. These were; African American population, culture, and economy (discrimination with jobs). The city may not have blossomed as much as it did without the help of jazz and its unique qualities, but jazz would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the help from the city of New Orleans.


Works Cited:

Castellanos, Henry C., and George F. Reinecke. New Orleans as It Was: Episodes of Louisiana Life. Baton Rouge: Published for the Louisiana American Revolution Bicentennial Commission by the Louisiana State UP, 1978. Print.

Hirsch, Arnold R., and Joseph Logsdon. “The People And Culture of New Orleans.” New Orleans. Department of History, University of New Orleans, Mar. 2008. Web. 07 Mar. 2012. <http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/history/people.html>.

Marsalis, Wynton. “History of Jazz | Black History in America | Scholastic.com.” Teachers Scholastic. Scholastic Inc., Jan. 2012. Web. 07 Mar. 2012. <http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/history_of_jazz.htm>.


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