Rosemont Records, owned by Alfred Elijah Taylor, ran one of New Orleans’ first Black recording studios and was one of the most prolific record labels in the city’s history.
Taylor was born in 1932 in Mobile, Alabama, and moved to New Orleans, his mother’s hometown, after his father died. In 1960, after school and a stint in the Air Force, Alfred and Martha Taylor moved to the newly built Rosemont subdivision in New Orleans East.
In 1962, Taylor’s father-in-law, Reverend Alvin Tolbert, gave him a Sony mono portable recorder and asked him to record the annual musical at his church. From there Taylor started recording musical programs at churches around town using his mono rig and two microphones, one for the choir and one for the preacher. He’d live mix the two together direct to tape.
Soon after, gospel singer Naomi Gordon approached Taylor about making her session into a record. The record needed a label and Rosemont Records was born. Soon it became a one-stop shop that could record, mix, design covers and labels, press vinyl, and release custom recordings on their imprint. Churches paid a set fee for Rosemont to do it all. Before long Taylor established Orangedale publishing as well.
By 1967, Taylor bought the building at 1938 Dumaine Street in Treme, Rosemont Records’ home for next 25 years. He renovated it and in 1969 upgraded to a four-track stereo tape machine.
Rosemont recorded or released records by a who’s who of the New Orleans gospel scene, including The Gospel Soul Children, Zion Harmonizers, New Orleans Spiritualettes, The Rocks Of Harmony, Ebenezer Baptist Church Radio Choir, The Melody Clouds, Alvin Bridges and the Desire Community Choir, The Crownseekers, The Mighty Chariots, and literally hundreds more.
Rosemont regularly hired two local musical giants to collaborate on sessions or produce music while Taylor engineered. Sammy Berfect handled gospel duties, and Wilson Turbinton—better known as Willie Tee—was in charge of jazz, pop, and soul.
In the late 70s and early 80s, Rosemont produced a number of notable sessions, including Bruce Sampson’s “You’re Bad,” Willie Lee Dixon’s “Disco Gorilla,” Muchos Plus’ “Nassau’s Discos,” Ernest Skipper’s “Shotgun Joe,” and The Unit Band’s “You Fool” LP.
Legendary punk label ‘Lectric Eye recorded all three of their 45s at Rosemont: The Normals, Men In Black, and The Skinnies. Some of New Orleans’ earliest hip-hop records, “P-Wee’s Beat” by Tonya P, MC J Ro J’s “Let’s Jump,” and the Famous Low-Down Boys’ “Cold Rockin’ The Place” were recorded and released on Rosemont Records.
In addition to commercial recordings, politicians regularly used Rosemont to record election ads and local retailers hired Rosemont to produce their jingles. Rosemont hosted Jessie Jackson, Coretta Scott King, Muhammad Ali, Dick Gregory, and a host of others.
Rev. Avery Alexander was the last person to record a spot in Rosemont Studios before it the financial burdens became too high and the payoff too small to keep the studio running in the early to mid-1990s. Hurricane Katrina and the flood of 2005 washed away the studio records, leftover vinyl, master tapes, and equipment, so little is left of this true New Orleans original.
Located directly across North Rampart Street from the French Quarter, Treme is arguably the oldest Black neighborhood in the country, and one of the most influential in shaping popular American music. As early as 1726, free people of color lived along Bayou Road and enslaved Africans practiced sacred traditions of music and dance in a nearby commons. The area was subdivided as an urban neighborhood in the 1810s, leaving a square block of the commons, Congo Square, as greenspace (gatherings of enslaved people continued there, under increasing regulation, through the mid-19th century).
Treme became fairly diverse later in the 1800s as Sicilians and other European immigrants arrived, but the neighborhood was strongly associated with its French-speaking Afro Creole community. Historians Joseph Logsdon and Caryn Cosse Bell note that Creoles of color, among other distinctions, were known for embracing “dance, music, … ritualized festivals, and marching bands.” Music venues in the 19th century included churches and meeting halls of the benevolent societies that were integral to social life here.
While Treme doesn’t stand alone as the “Birthplace of Jazz”—the artform developed across the city—a high concentration of its pioneers lived here. These include the Tio family, influential clarinet players and teachers; Armand Piron, violinist and popular bandleader; Freddie Keppard, the “cornet king” after the legendary Buddy Bolden; and Alphonse Picou, clarinet ace and manager of a bar in the neighborhood. Others, including Bolden, Sidney Bechet, and Kid Ory, came to Treme to perform at dance halls in the early 1900s.
The streets themselves were often full of music. The density of benevolent societies along with funeral homes and cemeteries in the area made brass band parades and jazz funerals common. Young people played homemade instruments on street corners, and early jazz bands promoted gigs by playing on flatbeds pulled through the neighborhood. On Mardi Gras, Black Masking Indians (also known as Mardi Gras Indians) and Baby Dolls rolled with musical accompaniment, often gathering under the canopy of live oaks on North Claiborne Avenue.
In the middle of the 20th century, segregation intensified across New Orleans and Treme became increasingly Black. Neighborhood bars and nightclubs emerged as venues for the remnants of Black vaudeville acts and big bands, then, after World War II, for the city’s brand of rhythm and blues. It’s no coincidence that some of the greatest drummers of the R&B era—including Earl Palmer, Smokey Johnson, and James Black—grew up in Treme. “The difference is the bass drum,” Johnson told writer Bunny Matthews. “That comes from hearing them street parades, them marching bands.” Palmer brought the parade beat into J&M Studios, which faced Treme on Rampart Street, recording seminal R&B hits with Fats Domino, Little Richard, and others, giving rise to rock and roll.
In the late 1960s two public works projects transformed Treme. The construction of an elevated expressway along North Claiborne Avenue devastated what had been a corridor of Black businesses (including record labels, Houston’s School of Music, and the Black musicians’ union) and a tree-shaded promenade for parades. Shortly afterward, the demolition of 10 square blocks for an ill-conceived “cultural center” uprooted hundreds of low-income Black households (the cleared land eventually became Armstrong Park). Years of divestment followed.
Despite these losses—and, in part, in response to them—Treme was at the heart of a brass band and second line renaissance that began in the 1970s and gathered momentum through the 1990s. New generations of musical families like the Andrews infused brass band music with R&B, funk, and hip-hop, and a new wave of social aid and pleasure clubs (descendants of 19th century benevolent societies), Baby Dolls, and Skull and Bone gangs reinvigorated local parading traditions. At the same time, music programs in neighborhood schools produced scores of young artists including Mannie Fresh, the multiplatinum-selling producer for Cash Money Records, who brought the sounds of New Orleans streets back to the top of the national charts.
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, public policy once again forced a mass displacement from Treme. With renters largely ineligible for recovery assistance and public housing complexes demolished, many longtime residents were priced out of the neighborhood, which rapidly gentrified (it was 92% Black before the flood and 57% Black in 2018). Before the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, the Candlelight Lounge was the last live music club in the area.
Today, if music no longer infuses daily life in Treme like it used to, culture bearers have a heightened sense of purpose in keeping local traditions alive. Events like second lines, funerals, and Mardi Gras parades continue to fill the streets as they have since the 19th century, and drum circles and festivals continue in Congo Square, now inside Armstrong Park.