Hidden History: American music sprang from a New Orleans park

NEW ORLEANS (WNCT) – The musical contributions of Louisiana’s African-American community play a rich part in United States history. The culture of Louisiana itself moves to its rhythms. And African-Americans greatly influenced the Louisiana music scene – from jazz to blues to present-day hip hop.

Those contributions can still be heard in Jackson Square in New Orleans, across the street from the Mississippi River.

Kenneth Terry of the Kenneth Terry Brass Band said that the music they play comes from their roots.

“All this music we are playing out here come from slavery days, what are forefathers, brought from Africa to the streets of New Orleans,” Terry said. “If you look behind me, that’s where all the slaves used to get off the boats.  This is what we do to keep our culture, our culture growing throughout New Orleans.”

They’re mainly playing New Orleans jazz music, also known as Dixieland, the new jazz that replaced ragtime music.

The new jazz music had an African-based rhythmic pattern, such as stomping and clapping, a West African influence and a European classical music. The music originated with African-Americans, emerged out of New Orleans, and took over at the turn of the 20th century.

Mark Smith of the Kenneth Terry Brass Band said that the music is a gumbo.

“It’s a mixture of Dixieland jazz, all that, it’s a mixture of them, at the same time,” Smith said.

But before ragtime, jazz, or stars like Louis Armstrong, the music of Louisiana started with slaves.

“Louis Armstrong inspired me and it’s important because it helps me become a better person in life,” Terry said.

In Congo Square, located in what’s now known as Louis Armstrong Park, as many as 500 to 600 enslaved and freed Africans would congregate on Sunday afternoons from the 1700s to the 1800s.  Africans were allowed to express themselves—not just creatively—but spiritually as well.

Mike Shepherd, president and managing member of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, said Africans had everything they needed to create their unique sounds.

“They brought their own music, they brought their own instruments.  They brought the rhythmic blends that New Orleans became famous for,” Shepard said.

Shepherd said blues, swing, and jazz, all have origins in Congo Square and the musical contributions of African-Americans in Louisiana. And those sounds spread.

They really made the music of the whole United States, and everything came from that, the rock and roll, everything except country,” Shepard said.

Kenneth Terry and his band, at Jackson Square, plan to carry on their forefathers’ musical contributions.

“What we do is keep the music alive,” Terry said.

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