“Nice to Meet You, Three, Four”: New Orleans Musicians and the Attractions of Community

“I sang ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,’ and that was it. I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my life. And my father being a jazz musician and my mother an opera singer and Fats Domino living next door and Al Hirt living down the street, oh my goodness . . . This is what I was supposed to do.” Charmaine Neville backstage at Snug Harbor between sets at her regular Monday night gig. Photo by Michael Urban.

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“Nice to Meet You, Three, Four”: New Orleans Musicians and the Attractions of Community

by Michael Urban
Southern Cultures, Vol. 21, No. 3: Music

"'I think that everyone who lives here and plays music feels honored in some way, you know. It's a real privilege to be able to live in New Orleans and play music.'"

The term “New Orleans musician” refers to a highly valorized, historically rooted identity shared by a select community in the Crescent City. However, it concerns more than a place, a celebrated past, or even the style of music performed. Above all, a New Orleans musician is someone recognized by others as such because he or she engages in specific practices and abides by certain norms of the city’s musical community. This much I have learned from the musicians themselves—and from knowledgeable others, such as music journalists and audio recording engineers—over the course of some fifty-one open-ended interviews conducted with them between October and December 2013. I never used the term in my questions, but they frequently introduced it in their responses, tossing it around as a matter of fact not much different from, say, the chairs on which we sat.

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