Art & Identity in New Orleans

HNRS 109 Spring '18

How Jazz Culture Came to Be in New Orleans vs NYC

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The cultures of New Orleans and New York are rich with old and new traditions that have endured from their conception to the present. Each city has been a pioneer in American culture, particularly in the realm of jazz.  Many of the traditions and cultural hallmarks of New Orleans have never left the city and remain virtually unknown to the world outside, while the influence of Harlem has reached a broader audience. How do the two cities differ in their range of influence, the identity that they defined, and how it has influenced culture in modern day America?

New Orleans is a city that has been rich in culture and traditions since it was founded. These traditions have been used as cultural expression for years. Some of what the city is known for includes second lining, bounce, and brass bands, which go hand in hand with the jazz culture. These traditions have grown to represent the Creole culture, and to identify the unique mix of backgrounds of the people in the city of New Orleans. “According to the official New Orleans Guide, New Orleans is a place where Africans, both slave and free, and American Indians shared their cultures and intermingled with European settlers.” New Orleans was ahead of its time during segregation. While oppression still existed, there was a coexistence among the races that was rare elsewhere.

The rapid cultural change in Harlem, known as the Harlem Renaissance, can be credited to what is called the Great Migration, which occurred in the early 1900s. Starting out with just a few African American families moving into a white neighborhood, which is what Harlem began as, that part of town soon became a hub of cultural explosion that was both influenced by and facilitated African American artists, scholars, and musicians to find success in a time of segregation and limited opportunity.

The two unique cultures of both New York and New Orleans allowed for pockets of tradition and practice to occur alongside otherwise “normal” practices accepted for the time, such as segregation. Today, the two cities are a gold mine of culture, waiting to be discovered.

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