Jazz Funeral: A Living Tradition

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Jazz Funeral: A Living Tradition

by Peter A. Coclanis, Angelo P.Coclanis
Southern Cultures, Vol. 11, No. 2: Summer 2005

"On a sweaty Saturday morning in late October 2004, a jazz funeral was held in New Orleans. Lloyd Washington had performed off and on in the postwar period in one of the many groups known as the Ink Spots that grew out of the original 1930s group of that name."

No southern city—indeed, few cities anywhere—can touch New Orleans when it comes to civic ritual, spectacle, and pageantry. Most readers of Southern Cultures are aware of the performative dimensions of Carnival season in the Crescent City, which culminates, of course, in Mardi Gras. Fewer are probably familiar with another venerable New Orleans performance ritual: the jazz funeral. Generally speaking, the modern script for such funerals calls for brass bands, as well as “second-line” parades of well wishers and revelers, to accompany the deceased from the church where the service is held to the cemetery where he or she is to be interred. These funerals typically honor notable local musicians, and “second liners” are often in costume.