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Second Line

Jazz music is everywhere in New Orleans — simply walk the streets for a few minutes and you’ll run into it: loud, proud, and infectiously hip-swinging.

Jazz funerals are yet another musical phenomenon that sets New Orleans apart from the rest of the world. A celebration in the midst of sadness, the musical parades march through the street with a social club and jazz band at the helm — the “second line” in the parade is often made up of the public, as well as friends and extended family of the deceased who follow through the streets.

Today, second-line parades take place even without any funeral–typically these are sponsored by local social aid clubs and benevolent societies. The Black Men of Labor (BMOL) form one of the more recent social clubs (founded in 1993) but they follow a New Orleans tradition that dates back almost 300 years. Social and pleasure clubs were first established in the city as a way to assist members with work and as a means of social aid and progress.

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to catch the Black Men of Labor’s second-line parade as it passed by on Rampart Street just outside the French Quarter. This particular parade was to honor the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders and to celebrate their role in the civil rights movement.

The crowds were massive and the atmosphere jubilant — every new block we passed saw a few dozen people join in the parade until there were thousands marching and dancing in the street. The music was exceptional (as always), played by the Treme Brass Band with trumpet blasts that pierced the air and tubas bellowing out loud.

Of all the great musical experiences to be had in New Orleans, I highly recommend trying to catch a second-line parade. You can find out if any will be taking place during your visit on Just remember–there are no spectators. The whole point of a second line is to join in and march with the band.

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