Friday, October 8, 2010

New Orleans Jazz Funeral: Homegoing Celebration With Second Line Dancing (7:39)

In New Orleans, my hometown, a jazz funeral is considered a homegoing celebration because the deceased is going home, crossing over to the other side. Emotions often run high as mourners are moved by the music and spiritual energy building up as the service progresses. Although there is sadness because the loved one is no longer physically available, there is joy in knowing that the deceased has gone to a better place where there will be no more sorrow and where they will be reunited one day with loved ones who went home before them.

Mourners come prepared to render a dynamic farewell. Death is an event that requires rejoicing. After services at the church or funeral home, a grand marshal leads a brass band and an assembled group of mourners, along with the hearse, in a procession to the cemetery to “drop the body.” The band plays solemn music at this time.  Stepping unhurriedly with the beat, participants walk a route down city streets. When they reach the cemetery, they “cut the body loose” as the hearse slowly enters for final services where the body is laid to rest.

After the procession of mourners leaves the cemetery, a rousing celebration begins with the band playing an upbeat song like “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The funeral procession continues, growing in size with many community members collectively called “second liners,” who join in the joy with curious bystanders. A spirited dance called the “second line” is prominent among the celebrants. Many participants bob umbrellas, some brightly decorated, and wave handkerchiefs in the air to the hot-sauce beat of the music. Surely, the deceased must be ecstatic with the large turnout of well-wishers expressing such jubilance in the send-off.

This video features part of the homegoing celebration of Juanita Brooks, who was a prominent jazz and gospel singer. Wanda Rouzan, a popular performing artist known as the Sweetheart of New Orleans, serves as grand marshal. The focus is on the musical transition from slow and somber to spirited as the funeral procession progresses with second liners.

You can learn more about New Orleans at my New Orleans Memories website.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at booksellers such as Amazon.

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