McDonogh No. 35, commonly referred to today as “Thirty-five,” became the first public high school for black students in Louisiana when it opened in 1917. The city placed it in a run-down building on the corner of South Rampart and Girod, so close to a red light district that students had to maneuver past its customers on their way to class in the morning.
In Chord Changes on the Chalkboard, author Al Kennedy describes the lineage of music teachers at McDonogh 35. The first was Edward Belfield Spriggins, who also wrote important examinations of early jazz for the newspaper Louisiana Weekly. (That paper was co-founded by O.C.W. Taylor, once the principal of McDonogh 35, and an informal counselor to a young Mahalia Jackson.)
Osceola Blanchet, a musician who played in the popular Manuel Perez Band among many others, taught music at McDonogh 35 from the 1920s through the 1960s. He worked tirelessly for his students, arranging public performances for them and teaching them after hours about everything from opera to visual art.
Clyde Kerr, Sr., one of Blanchet’s students in the late 1920s, went on to be a prominent arranger and bandleader. His group, the Clyde Kerr Orchestra, gigged all over town, including down the street at the Astoria. Like Blanchet, he became a passionate educator in and out of school. His mentees and students included artists who would later define the sound of New Orleans R&B, including Dave Bartholomew, Wardell Quezergue, Alvin “Red” Tyler, and Wilson “Willie Tee” Turbinton. His son Clyde Kerr, Jr. became a trumpeter and a venerated teacher himself.
Alvin Batiste taught music at McDonogh 35, fresh off of a tour with Ray Charles in 1954. Batiste, a heady modern jazz clarinetist, recorded with Cannonball Adderly and other heavyweights over a long career. He also founded a jazz institute at Southern University in Baton Rouge. His students included Branford Marsalis, Henry Butler, Herlin Riley, and “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson.
In 1965, Hurricane Betsy damaged the school building on South Rampart beyond repair. After a few moves, McDonogh 35 settled at 1331 Kerlerec, where it stayed until Hurricane Katrina and the flood of 2005. In 2015, as part of a city-wide post-Katrina school redevelopment plan, McDonogh 35 moved to a new facility in Gentilly. A brick from the South Rampart Street building is displayed there today.
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Lining up before a Mardi Gras parade in 2017, the Mcdonough 35 marching band "battles" the Edna Karr High School marching band.
From the 2017 Ponderosa Stomp Music History Conference, Richard Campanella, Bruce Raeburn, and "Deacon" John Moore discuss music on South Rampart Street with Jordan Hirsch.