Curated by
The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation

Walking ‘Round in the Sixth Ward: Treme Tour

Historically, music suffused everyday life in Treme, from private residences to street corners, church pews to barrooms. Localized as it was, music originating here has been heard around the world for a century. This tour encompasses a range of different sites that contributed to its development.

At Congo Square, music performed a vital social and spiritual function for enslaved Africans and their descendants. Nearby, New Orleans’ distinctive funerary traditions made St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 and the Charbonnet-Labat-Glapion Funeral Home into venues for some of the community’s most deeply felt musical expressions.

Buddy Bolden, the “First Man of Jazz,” played the new music in Globe Hall, and it continued just after the turn of the 20th century among Creoles of color at the Society of Inseparable Friends Hall and the white Masonic lodge known as Perseverance Hall. Starting in the 1920s, San Jacinto Hall became a concert venue and meeting ground for some of the area’s many Black social clubs. Around the same time, a couple of blocks away, the city built the Municipal Auditorium to serve its white elite.

While concert audiences were segregated, Treme’s residential diversity in the early 1900s meant Italian Americans like Louis Prima grew up listening to Black musicians in the neighborhood. Those artists, including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer  Earl Palmer, carried the sound of  Treme’s street parades onto bandstands and into recording studios. Parading traditions got a shot in the arm in the late 20th century, when brass band musicians like Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen made Treme the home base for a brass band renaissance, which attracted young artists in the Lafitte Public Housing Development. Its energy also inspired rock and roll hero Alex Chilton, who, by the 1980s, was one of the area’s few white residents.

At midcentury, before the I-10 overpass loomed over it, the commercial corridor of North Claiborne Avenue included a number of music-related businesses. Harold Battiste opened an office for AFO Records, a label owned and operated by Black musicians, which was revolutionary in 1961. Up the street, Connie LaRocca ran Frisco Records, which pressed some classics of New Orleans R&B. Alfred Taylor opened one of the city’s first Black recording studios, Rosemont, nearby in 1967. On Orleans Avenue, Dooky Chase restaurant was a haven for Black musicians from across the country.

Treme churned out generation after generation of artists thanks to its devoted teachers and mentors. Craig Elementary School trained musicians going back to the big band era. Later, some of the city’s finest R&B artists studied at Houston’s School of Music and Clark High School. Marching band programs at Bell Junior High School and John McDonogh High School became a feeder for the new wave of brass bands beginning in the 1970s. At the Treme Community Center, civil rights leader Jerome Smith taught these traditions while developing students’ social consciousness.

This area was home to some of New Orleans’ most storied nightclubs, including the Gypsy Tea Room, where rhythm and blues pioneer Dave Bartholomew cut his teeth as a bandleader; the Caldonia Inn, where Henry Roeland Byrd got the name Professor Longhair; and the Grease Lounge, where the Rebirth Brass Band cut their first record as teenagers (and where live music played on after Hurricane Katrina, when it was known as the Candlelight).

The city bulldozed eight blocks of Treme in the age of urban renewal, and turned the land into Armstrong Park in 1980. Community radio station WWOZ began broadcasting there in 1984. More recently, community-based museums emerged in the neighborhood to teach visitors about local traditions. The Backstreet Cultural Museum has displayed Mardi Gras Indian suits and other artifacts since 1999. In 2017 Al Jackson and Reid Raymond opened Treme’s Petit Jazz Museum, which includes rare documents from the city’s Black musicians’ union.

To Learn More

Treme: Race and Place in a New Orleans Neighborhood by Michael E. Crutcher, Jr. is a concise academic study of the area with an emphasis on culture.

Mick Burns’ 2006 book Keeping the Beat on the Street: The New Orleans Brass Band Renaissance is an oral history of the brass band revival that began in the 1970s, told in the words of the artists themselves. Much of the action takes place in Treme.

Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, a 2009 documentary by Dawn Logsdon, offers an intimate look at the neighborhood’s history.

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