The Essence of New Orleans Jazz

Faubourg Tremé and the Essence of New Orleans

With the coming of the 20th Annual Essence Festival in two weeks, we are reminded of what makes New Orleans the place to be: music. It’s the personification of emotions and memories, it’s the tinge of a broken heart, it’s the hope we have for days to come. In celebration of this year’s Essence Festival, we’ve gathered a bit of history about one of New Orleans’ primary cultural resources—her neighborhoods.

While our city is filled with poverty-stricken areas and has seen more than her fair share of disasters, both social and natural, our neighborhoods hold the hearts of great people who have changed and forged our culture.

When you think of New Orleans, you think: art, music and the greatness of freedom. No matter the circumstance, the people of New Orleans have always had the final say in what defines the city as a whole. One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, and America’s oldest African American neighborhood, Faubourg Tremé, is the primary example of the spirit we’ve come to know and love in the Big Easy.

History Highlights: Faubourg Tremé

Known today as the Sixth Ward and originally known as “Back of Town,” Faubourg Tremé remains an important center of the New Orleans’ African-American and Créole culture, especially with the birth of the modern brass band tradition and Jazz music. Near the end of the 18th century, Claude Tremé purchased the Morand Plantation and the land of two adjacent forts—St. Ferdinand and St. John—to build Faubourg Tremé. Over the years, the city developed subdivisions throughout the area to house a diverse population that included Caucasians, Haitian Créoles, and freed African Americans, and while Tremé has seen the effects of drugs and crime, its creative heart  beats loudly and proudly day after day.

At the “center” of Tremé was Congo Square, which began as Place des Nègres—a place where slaves gathered to dance on Sundays. Music was never far from Congo Square, brass and symphonic bands gave concerts in the open-air market over the years.

These bands played in a more improvisational style, letting the emotions move the notes and the beat and the people dancing in the street. The concerts of Congo Square provided a necessary foundation for what we know of today as New Orleans Jazz. When you stop by for Essence Festival this coming July, be sure to take a tour of New Orleans and find out more about our history.

Tremé Musicians You May Know:

  • Alphonse Picou
  • Kermit Ruffins
  • Lucien Barbarin
  • “The King of Tremé” Shannon Powell
  • Henry Ragas
  • Louis Prima
  • Alex Chilton

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