New Orleans Schools Remove Jazz Music Ban 100 Years Later

For the past 100 years, jazz music and dancing have been banned from New Orleans public schools.

The ban was impossible to enforce and didn’t stop a long line of jazz musicians from honing their skills in New Orleans schools. But on March 24, 100 years after the Orleans Parish School Board voted to ban jazz from its educational institutions, current board members voted unanimously to lift the ban.

“I am very happy that we can cancel this policy. I want to recognize it. It was rooted in racism,” OPSB President Olin Parker said in a statement. “And I also want to acknowledge the tremendous contributions of our students and especially our Band Managers, whose legacy continues from 1922 to the present day.”

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Louis Armstrong, 1950. Photo courtesy of Duncan Schiedt.

The 1922 ban was proposed by a school board member identified in the New Orleans Times-Picayune archives as Mrs. A. Baumgartner, who told the board, “Jazz dancing and jazz music in schools should be stopped immediately.

Baumgartner said she had seen “a lot of brutal dancing” in school auditoriums and preferred one-step, two-step and waltz. When asked by another board member what jazz is, Baumgartner replied, “I only saw a little bit of it, but it was awful.”

The ban didn’t stop jazz from entering public schools, according to local historian Al Kennedy’s 2002 book “Chord Changes on the Chalkboard: How Public School Teachers Shaped Jazz and the Music of New Orleans.” . In a 2004 Times-Picayune interview, Kennedy described finding a photo in a 1929 yearbook showing the local school jazz band. The photo showed a young Frank Federico, who later played guitar for Louisa Prima.

At Craig Elementary School in New Orleans in the 1930s, students in one class included Edgar “Dooky” Chase, Warren Bell Sr., Benny Powell, and Yvonne Busch. All became jazz musicians. And many, like Busch, eventually taught in New Orleans public schools while shaping the next generation of jazz talent, according to Kennedy’s book.

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“You really can’t look at music in this town without also looking at what was taught by public school music teachers,” Kennedy said in the 2004 interview. ‘order.”

Yet some question the damage caused by the token ban. New Orleans jazz scholar and writer James Karst said a young Louis Armstrong moved to Chicago months after his hometown banned jazz music in schools.

“It worked well for him,” Karst said.

Karst said New Orleans city officials have been “long hostile to jazz.” Armstrong’s childhood home on what was once Jane Alley was destroyed by the city in 1964 to make way for a traffic court. The home of jazz musician Sidney Bechet was also bulldozed by the city, “which unwittingly approved the demolition” as it worked to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, according to a 2011 Associated Press article. home of Buddy Bolden, considered one of the founding fathers of jazz, is also in poor condition despite several efforts to save it over the years.

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A collapsed wall on the side of The Little Gem Saloon jazz club in New Orleans, Louisiana, as seen Monday, August 30, 2021, after Hurricane Ida landed in Louisiana on Sunday, August 29 August 2021.

Karst said he appreciates the school board’s decision to eliminate a longstanding — albeit ineffective — ban on jazz in schools.

“Anything that pushes us in the other direction, where we embrace our rich history and culture, I think is great,” Karst said. “Jazz is something to be enjoyed and loved.”

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