New Orleans Rhythm and Blues in Historical Perspective
In addition to holding down day jobs as a seaport and commercial hub, historically New Orleans also has enjoyed a separate existence as a mythopoetic space, home to all manner of extraordinary beings: pirates and parade princesses, vampires and voodoo queens, Mardi Gras Indians and dancing skeletons and, closer to our topic, piano professors and piano princes. This chapter concerns the significance that the city’s musical history and heritage hold for those continuing its rhythm and blues traditions today, outlining how a remembered, imagined and reimagined past informs their sense of identity and place in the world. Accordingly, in order to provide something of the flavor of these processes, the following section taps into the text of interviews recording the comments of contemporary performers on their forebears from the halcyon days of New Orleans R&B. Thereafter, the discussion turns to that extraordinary period itself, bringing into focus those forces and conditions accounting for the unparalleled impact that New Orleans has had on American popular music in the latter half of the last century. The final portion of the chapter takes the discussion of the city’s R&B scene up to the advent of Hurricane Katrina. Because the story of that music prior to Katrina has already been told, I make no attempt to be exhaustive, here.
KeywordsHistorical Perspective Popular Music French Quarter Recording Studio White Audience
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