Music of New Orleans

History of the Music of New Orleans


While New Orleans is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of jazz, the music of New Orleans has been influenced by many cultures and has a wide and varied audience.  Some might say that the development of what we now call the music of New Orleans began before the Civil War, when slaves would gather in Congo Square on Sundays to play music and dance.  The importance of Congo Square in the development of New Orleans music is recognized by the New Orleans Jazz Festival, which has given the name to one of its largest stages.  The combination of African rhythms, Cuban influences, ragtime, and syncopation gave rise to traditional jazz in New Orleans (while most prefer the term “traditional jazz,” this is sometimes referred to as “Dixieland” jazz).

Another important aspect of the history of the music of New Orleans is the development of rhythm and blues. After World War II, musicians such as Fats Domino developed this early ancestor of rock and roll, writing and recording many hits in New Orleans.  More recently, New Orleans has been the home of influential hip hop labels, including No Limit Records and Cash Money Records.  New Orleans Bounce music is another popular cultural export.  The diversity of acts at New Orleans’ many music festivals speaks to the city’s rich and varied musical history.


History of New Orleans Jazz Festival


The New Orleans Jazz Festival started in 1970 as a celebration of the rich musical and cultural heritage of New Orleans and South Louisiana.  Since then, it has expanded into a two-week, internationally renowned cultural and artistic event, drawing visitors from all over the world and bringing tremendous financial impact to the city of New Orleans and its artists.  The original concept for a heritage festival in New Orleans was developed by George Wein, who had founded the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival.  Wein hired Allison Miner and Quint Davis, who together became the creative driving force behind the development of the New Orleans Jazz Festival.  Allison Miner, who passed away in 1995, remains the only person honored in the name of a Jazz Fest stage – the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage.  Quint Davis is still the CEO of Festival Productions, the company that produces the New Orleans Jazz Festival.


Music at the New Orleans Jazz Festival


The New Orleans Jazz Fest began as a small festival, featuring local acts in Congo Square.  In addition to both traditional and contemporary jazz, visitors to New Orleans Jazz Fest can see acts from all over the musical spectrum, from country and bluegrass to rap and R&B, from Cajun and Zydeco to folk and gospel.  Regular New Orleans favorites to appear at Jazz Fest have included Irma Thomas, the Neville Brothers, the Radiators, Trombone Shorty, Charmaine Neville, and Marcia Ball.  In addition, Jazz Fest draws many rock and pop acts with national and international followings.  In recent years, these acts have included Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic, Florence and the Machine, and Ani DiFranco.