Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Death Ritual Celebrations: Holidays, Jazz Funeral (Video 7:39)

Fall is a time of the year when many people engage in formal and informal rituals celebrating loved ones who have died. Honoring the deceased is not a single act, but a unique personal journey that may consist of various tributes. People often rely more on grief expressions to help them cope in their daily lives and maintain their continuing connections with those who have gone.

Latin American communities hold Day of the Dead celebrations that include decorative altars, prayers, food, and other festivities that keep the spirits happy. Folk art skeletons and sugar skulls are prominent. All Saints’ Day is celebrated to honor saints, particularly those who do not have their own feast days. This day and All Souls’ Day, a day of prayer for deceased loved ones and others, often include families attending special masses and visiting cemeteries to decorate graves, pray, and light candles. For most people, remembrance activities are endearing declarations that sustain them during their long-term adjustment to loss.

In New Orleans, a jazz funeral is a death homegoing celebration with the deceased going home, crossing over to the other side. Mourners come prepared to render a dynamic farewell. 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, the hearse slowly enters for final services where they “cut the body loose” as it 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.

As this video illustrates, Juanita Brooks, a popular traditional jazz and gospel singer who died, must have been ecstatic with the large turnout of well-wishers expressing such jubilation in her send-off.

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 online and offline booksellers.


  1. Just fantastic. We all would be honored with a send-off like that.

  2. Dave,

    Happy holidays! It's always good to hear from you. This is my favorite jazz funeral video because it showcases women, even Juanita Brooks who is being celebrated with her fantastic send-off.

    Wishing you every flavor of happiness in the new year,