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We dance at a funeral with music


A community comes together at Charlie Nash’s memorial second line.

Editor’s Note: The following series “Boots n’ Blues”  is a week-long series curated by Kila Moore as part of the Digital Research Internship Program in partnership with ViaNolaVie. The DRI Program is a Newcomb Insitute technology initiative for undergraduate students combining technology skill sets, feminist leadership, and the digital humanities.

In the toe of Louisiana lies one of the world’s greatest contributions to music: the city of New Orleans. The trumpets and saxophones heard from the city’s infamous second-lines have inspired so much of the music we hear today — from jazz (New Orleans’ specialty) to blues, bounce, and hip-hop — its legacy on the sound of America’s music is unprecedented. This collection of articles explores the presence and impact of New Orleans’ music scene from the red lights of Storyville to the neon lights of Bourbon Street. And while the streets are silent from the effects of COVID-19, it is the perfect time to remember why music is so important to so many.

Funerals seem to be a strange place for joy; but in New Orleans, to celebrate a loved one’s life is to dance in their honor. This is what folks mean when they sing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” This article was originally published on July 17, 2012.

If you die in New Orleans, the greatest tribute that can be given to you by your friends and community is for them to dance through the streets – rain or shine – behind a brass band playing in your honor.

This rain-soaked weekend, such a gesture happened twice.

Friday’s determined procession of many hundreds honoring musical icon “Uncle” Lionel Batiste (81), who died July 8, formed up under intermittent rain showers late in the day at Tuba Fats Square in Treme, skirted the edges of Armstrong Park and the French Quarter, finally meandering through Marigny before disbanding in a celebration at Sweet Lorraine’s at Marais and Touro Streets.

Saturday afternoon, on Oak Street, friends and members of the Carrollton community turned out in numbers despite a downpour to honor the memory of hardware manager and musician Charles Nash (42), who died from an accidental fire in his apartment on June 28.

Second-line tributes in modern New Orleans are stand-alone events. They are less appendages to “first-line” funeral processions that feature hired brass bands (known officially as a “funeral with music”), and more a gathering of friends and members of the community who simply wish to express themselves in memory of the deceased.

In a deeper sense, however, the spirit within a second-line procession creates an atmosphere of its own. You dance for the fallen; you dance for the rush of hive energy; you dance for the good intentions of dance itself.

It is an incantation, a dervish, a symbol of a forever march to our own eternal someday, wrapped in music that buoys our souls along with our gyrating, strutting, stumbling human selves. It is an honor to have others dance in honor of you but, equally so, it is significant to participate.

The second line is an acceptance of our mortality.

It is also significant that we live in such a place that has such a tradition as the second line. It colors our world with hues that only we can see, that only we can understand when we think about who we are spiritually in this large village by a large river flowing through this ever-lengthening stream of time.

Local author Patrick M. Burke contributes stories about New Orleans to NolaVie.


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