Dance Halls

Jazz!

 

Hi Julia, 

Do you remember the fifties’ dance scene in the parishes? I recall that some churches specifically, St. Maurice, Cabrini, had dances on Friday evenings. Some were sponsored by NORD, and still others were in various buildings in the area. “Woodmen of the World” and “De and Denbrim Hall” come to mind. Do you have any idea why or when they faded out? –  Beverly Wellmeyer (New Orleans, LA)

 

There was a big dance hall scene in the ‘50s and into the ‘60s. Part of the reason was post-war. The sailors and soldiers were returning home and everyone wanted to have fun. By the ‘60s some of the “war babies” born during the post-war boom were dating and dancing themselves. This was an era when that new sound, called rock and roll, was embracing the emerging generation. 

Dance Halls were not just in the city. They were popular in rural areas too. Public places were still segregated, and so were the dance halls. In his recently published book “Ghosts of Good Times”  author Herman Fuselier tells about the circuits for performers by race. He was a little too young for the dances but he recalls his parents going to nearby clubs and hearing the likes of Ray Charles and James Brown.

In New Orleans, just about any organization that owned some sort of hall staged dances as a revenue measure as well as a social outlet. That included Masonic Halls, schools and churches. One organization, the Catholic Youth Organization, staged frequent dances, or “hops.” You mentioned “Woodmen of the World.” That group had chapters mostly in rural areas. Several organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, also served a fraternal purpose, but also had their own insurance programs. Such was the case with Woodmen. (I am not familiar with “De and Denbrim Hall,” and neither is Poydras who worked as a chaperone at many of the dances. We welcome any insight.)

With the emergence of TV and with practically everyone having an automobile, there were more things to do and places to go. Integration was probably a factor too, though many Black performers crossed over with their music and had large white followings. Rock and roll (including Elvis) was influenced by Black music. One of the genre’s greatest R&B performers came out of New Orleans, Fats Domino; so too Irma Thomas and Ernie K-Doe. There is still a lot of dancing going on in the city at music clubs, such as Tipitina’s, Howling Wolf, Maple Leaf where race is hardly an issue. Music has a way of fixing itself.


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