Capturing New Orleans Heritage and Culture

The Beginnings of New Orleans Festivals

Jazz Fest fully defines New Orleans—a perfect balance of food, music, chaos and never ending beauty. This coming weekend marks the beginning of the 2014 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Past, present and future generations of New Orleans go to this event seeking the truest of New Orleans experiences: eating the food, hearing the movements of the music, and dancing along to the sounds of NOLA.

This weekend marks a time where everyone in New Orleans, whether local or visitor, become a New Orleanian. We become a singular celebration made up of separate songs and sounds and flavors.


“With 12 stages of soul-stirring music—Jazz, Gospel, Cajun, Zydeco, Blues, R&B, Rock, Funk, African, Latin, Caribbean, Folk, and much more—the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is a singular celebration.”

A Little Bit Of History

Mahalia Jackson, often called the greatest gospel singer, returned home to New Orleans to attend the Louisiana Heritage Fair in Congo Square. She and Duke Ellinton happened upon the Eureka Brass Band leading a crowd of second-line revelers through the Festival grounds. Little to his knowledge, George Wein, the producer of the Louisiana Heritage Fair, began the tradition that was later named the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival by handing Mahalia Jackson a microphone. She sang along with the band and joined the parade, creating a mixture of soul and jazz. Thus, the spirit of Jazz Fest was born.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival continues to celebrate the sounds and flavors of Louisiana with the spice of the local cuisine combined with the passion of a gospel hymn and the joy of a jazz parade. Today, there is a wide variety of music styles and genres, food booths, and arts and crafts and a collection of evening concerts series—a construct that has proven to be vastly appealing and enduring.

The First Jazz Fest Lineup:

  • Mahalia Jackson
  • Duke Ellington
  • Pete Fountain
  • Al Hirt
  • Clifton Chenier
  • Fats Domino
  • The Meters
  • The Preservation Hall Band
  • The Olympia Brass Band
  • Mardi Gras Indians

The Great New Orleans Artists of Jazz Fest

  • Professor Longhair
  • Fats Domino
  • The Neville Brothers
  • Wynton Marsalis
  • Dr. John
  • Branford Marsalis
  • Harry Connick Jr.
  • Ellis Marsalis
  • The Radiators
  • Irma Thomas
  • The Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  • Allen Toussaint
  • Buckwheat Zydeco
  • The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
  • Better Than Ezra
  • Ernie K-Doe
  • Vernel Bagneris
  • The Zion Harmonizers
  • Beausoleil

The Growth of Jazz Fest

In 1970, only about 350 people attended the Festival, which quickly grew to 80,000 people in 1975—such a large amount of growth in only 5 years time. This momentum continued as Jazz Fest began to gain wide acclaim as one of the world’s greatest cultural celebrations by the 1980s.

In the 1990s, as stated by The New York Times, Jazz Fest was taking a permanent place in New Orleans Culture, becoming “inseparable from the culture it presents.”

The Things that Stick with Us

What is now recognized as the most popular poster series in the world, Jazz Fest posters were introduced in 1975. These colorful designs remain a token of New Orleans culture and the best reminder of just how unique the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival truly is.

Below is a small sampling of Jazz Fest posters throughout the past years. Be sure to check out this year’s design when you’re out and about on those Fair Grounds this weekend.

New Orleans Jazz Fest 1976

Jazz Fest 1976

New Orleans-Jazz-Fest-1992

Jazz Fest 1992


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