Do You Know What It Means to Mistrust New Orleans?
I sure do, but I keep coming back for more—when will I learn my lesson?
I love New Orleans music, but it’s a painful kind of love.
No city has disappointed me more. The local music tradition demands my awe and respect. But I want to cry when I see how it’s treated.
I recently got involved with some power brokers in New Orleans music. This was for a non-profit project—I’d been donating my time and services for more than a year. The project would benefit millions of children, and I worked without pay solely for the good of the city and its music. And, of course, the youngsters.
And these big shots did something unbelievably greedy and manipulative—to the clear detriment of the community and kids and larger culture.
They did this to enrich themselves.
I should know better by now. I’ve had too many encounters with New Orleans politicians and community leaders. I’ve been lied to so many times. But I foolishly keep coming back for more.
I wanted to write about this exploitation scheme here. These folks deserve to be called out.
But I was given legal advice to hold my tongue. I was told that I would make matters even worse if I went public.
So I’m biting down on my tongue hard. Ouch!
Instead, I’ll share some other recent news stories about music in New Orleans. These will give you a little taste of how things roll in the Big Easy.
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There’s an awkward question that visitors to the Louis Armstrong House Museum keep asking. Why is it located in Queens, New York? And why is Louis Armstrong buried in Queens?
Shouldn’t these things happen in New Orleans?
Ricky Riccardi, who runs the Armstrong archives and is a leading expert on the famous trumpeter, has heard it many times—especially when he travels to New Orleans.
How did Queens get all this?
Riccardi has to point out that Armstrong had a complicated relationship with his home town. In his youth, he was harassed by police, saw lynchings, and even faced an angry white mob seeking revenge after boxer Jack Johnson defeated the ‘Great White Hope’ Jim Jeffries in a historic bout.
As soon as he left for Chicago in 1922, [Armstrong] never even entertained the thought of moving back. What happened?
As Armstrong himself put it during a 1970 appearance on the Dick Cavett show: “I done got Northern-fied and forgot about a whole lot of that foolishness down there, you know?”
Between the summer of 1922 and the summer of 1931, Armstrong spent almost all of his time in cities with thriving Black arts scenes: the South Side of Chicago, Harlem in the midst of its “Renaissance,” and Central Avenue in Los Angeles…..
When he visited home for the first time in June 1931, he was reminded of that “foolishness” almost immediately. The only place that would book Armstrong was the Suburban Gardens, an establishment with a whites-only patron policy. On his first night there, a white radio announcer took one look at Armstrong, said, “I just can’t introduce that n***** on the air,” and walked off.
Armstrong wound up spending three months in New Orleans that summer, which was probably enough time for him to make the decision that he would never live there again.
Riccardi continues with a sad account of the New Orleans Jazz Club’s failed effort in 1964 to preserve Louis Armstrong’s boyhood home—supporters even offered to move the entire structure to the New Orleans Jazz Museum.
The city’s construction company responded by burning it to the ground.
Riccardi also provides direct testimony from Armstrong about his desire to be buried in New York.
Do you still wonder why?
You can read the entire article at this link.
Postscript: Someone should do a statistical analysis of jazz legends from New Orleans, and measure how many left the city for happier homes elsewhere. That’s a whole sad tale from Jelly Roll Morton to Wynton Marsalis and beyond. I don’t blame the musicians—it’s the larger forces….
This leads to my next news article, about the disastrous state of the Buddy Bolden house in New Orleans, one of the last surviving landmarks from the early days of jazz.
Almost every other important music landmark from that era has already been destroyed by the city. Don’t be fooled by the tourism campaigns—the famous Preservation Hall, for example, only became a jazz venue in the 1960s. The actual buildings related to the birth of jazz are almost all gone.
That’s why the Bolden home is so important.
Bolden is celebrated as the first jazz musician, and his house is a revered destination for music lovers. It was literally the first place I visited on my first trip to New Orleans.
For decades, people like me have been begging the city to save this building. It is in such poor condition, that it’s unlikely to survive much longer.
I thought that a solution was at hand when pop megastar PJ Morton of Maroon 5—whose affluent family has owned the property for years—made a public commitment to me that he would preserve this historic building.
That was back in 2018.
Some people warned me that I shouldn’t trust him. They told me I would be bitterly disappointed.