Chartered in 1844 by the Grand Lodge of the State of Louisiana and founded by German-speaking Freemasons, Germania Hall has its own secret history. But in the history of New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll and R&B, the Mid-City lodge sits at the apex of the pyramid.
Germania Hall was one of the jewels of the teenage music circuit in the 1950s and ’60s, along with the CYO dances and talent shows at (mostly white) schools such as St. Anthony, St. Dominic, St. Henry’s, Sacred Heart, Redemptorist, and Mater Dolorosa. In the hall’s heyday, from about 1959 to 1964, hundreds of teens turned out weekly to hear the best in local R&B by artists such as Professor Longhair, Smiley Lewis, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Frankie Ford, Eddie Bo, and Bobby Mitchell. Backing was often provided by young white bands like the Jokers, the Contours, the Emperors, the Corvettes, the Skyliners, and the Sparks. Irma Thomas credited Germania Hall sock hops for her crossover appeal to other white audiences in the area.
The shows ran every Saturday night year-round as well as Tuesdays during the summer, packing in the fans despite the lack of air conditioning. High-profile hit-makers passing through town also would stop by to play, including Clyde McPhatter, Chuck Berry, Dion, and Little Willie John.
But with the British Invasion, the hall’s glory days were over by 1965. The Scottish Rite Freemasons, of course, remain, and nostalgia shows and musical fundraisers are occasionally presented, featuring bands with direct ties to the golden age, such as Benny Grunch and the Bunch and Cullen Landry and Midnight Streetcar.
Video courtesy of Kevin McCaffrey.
Germania Hall in 2016.