ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Jazz Funerals and Second Lines in New Orleans

Updated on January 23, 2016

Jazz Funerals get their start

One of the amazing traditions in New Orleans- particularly among musicians, Indians and Krewe people- is the Jazz Funeral, or, as it used to be known "Funeral with music," typically followed by a Second Line parade.

In New Orleans, death has a different feeling than in the rest of the United States; there's a familiarity and comfort with it, because it's been so much closer here than elsewhere. With Yellow Fever, bubonic plague, hurricanes, duels, accidents on the Mississippi River and so many other ways to die prematurely, the people here learned to enjoy every moment while they could, and give a fantastic sendoff to their friends- after all, you never know when it's going to be your turn, and you'd want them to do the same for you, right?

Before the Graveyard

And so, the tradition of a two-part sendoff evolved over time, its roots having come over from Africa with the slaves. The musical styles have changed over the years, with brass bands being the current favorite. A band is generally hired, but often family and friends bring their own instruments to play in honor of the deceased as well.

The "Jazz" part of the funeral begins after the service, when the casket is removed from the church.

Dirges and hymns are sung as the coffin is brought (either by foot or by hearse, depending on distance) to the cemetery. The marchers move slowly, swaying and singing, following behind in mourning, until they arrive at the grave side, where everything changes.

The dirge

A change of pace

Once the dearly departed has been interred, everything changes.

No more dirges or sad songs, it's time to celebrate a life well lived. Parasols come out, white handkerchiefs fly and the dancing begins.

Second line celebration

Second Lines truly are celebrations- cheerful for the most part, with dancing and singing to honor the dead.
Second Lines truly are celebrations- cheerful for the most part, with dancing and singing to honor the dead.

Start the Second Line!

About Kerwin James & Second Line Controversy

Both of these videos are from the service of Kerwin James, a local musician

Only 33, Kerwin had a stroke after Hurricane Katrina, succumbing in 2007. His bio, according to a writeup in the Times-Pic:

Kerwin James is truly a product of New Orleans. He grew up in the Sixth Ward playing the snare drum at the age of eight and began picking up the tuba a few years later. The young James would accompany his brother Philip Frazier of the Rebirth Brass Band to the band's gigs and act as Grand Marshall, dancing and occasionally sitting in with the band. By the time Kerwin was eleven years old, he had made enough tips playing in the French Quarter to buy his first horn. Since then, James has played with the Jr. Olympia Brass Band, the Allstars and the Rebirth Brass Band.

Unfortunately, James' funeral became a flashpoint in the community. Again from the Times-Picayune:

Monday, at about 8 p.m., nearly 20 police cars swarmed to a Treme corner, breaking up a memorial procession and taking away two well-known neighborhood musicians in handcuffs. The confrontation spurred cries in the neighborhood about the over-reaction and disproportionate enforcement by police, who had often turned a blind eye to the traditional memorial ceremonies. Still others say the incident is a sign of a greater attack on the cultural history of the old city neighborhood by well-heeled newcomers attracted to Treme by the very history they seem to threaten. Police say Monday's response was in part generated from unspecified complaints. Tabb and Andrews face misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace and parading without a permit. But both returned Tuesday night to the intersection of St. Philip and North Robertson streets to lead another procession for their friend. "I got to be here," Andrews said. "Because I have to stand up for what I believe in."

The other concern, which is not mentioned in the article, is that the parades have occasionally been used as a place to settle 'scores,' particularly if the deceased died violently. The purchasing of permits for the parades is the police's preferred method of dealing with the situation. The permits would pay for police escorts, which would keep private property from being touched, and keep the possibility of danger down. The second line groups argue that this is part of the tradition in the city, and requiring these permits would kill the tradition, since many of these musicians' families are poor and couldn't afford the expense. It's an argument that's not yet settled, and we'll have to keep an eye on it and hope the tradition lives on.

It's hard to get video footage of a tuba player since they're always in the back, but here's a video from a Jazzfest afterparty in 2005, only four months before Hurricane Katrina would hit, and Kerwin would literally walk out of the flooded city with his tuba strapped to his back.

Kerwin at Work

David Bowie's Second Line Tribute

Although he had no direct New Orleans ties, Bowie fans in the region came together to give their grief and shock at his passing an outlet: they threw a second line in his honor on Saturday, January 16, 2016. The Preservation Jazz Hall band and Arcade Fire started a parade that grew to clog the streets as fans danced and sang to honor the beloved singer.

This turned out to be a bit controversial to purists, who worry the art and tradition of the second line is being watered down. In recent years, Second Lines have started to be incorporated into weddings, conventions, and other gatherings, many held purely for the enjoyment of tourists and visitors. The city has had a huge influx of new residents since Hurricane Katrina, many of whom do not know or care about the origins of the custom, and see it simply as another way to enjoy themselves.

Only time will tell how this long standing tradition will evolve, but I have to think that David Bowie would have been tickled at the sight.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      4 years ago from Norfolk

      How lovely, Jazz is very much part of my life and Jazz funerals seem to have become very popular in years. I can't think of a more joyful way to send someone off to their maker.

    • PaigePixel profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from New Orleans, LA

      Thank you, DJ!

    • djseldomridge profile image

      Donna Seldomridge 

      5 years ago from Delaware

      Very interesting and touching.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)