New Orleans is known for its rich history, its culture, and its traditions. It is known worldwide for its food, music, and celebrations. Among those celebrations most unique to New Orleans is the Jazz Funeral.
The Jazz Funeral in New Orleans dates back to the early 1800's, having its origins among slaves and free people of color when resources were pooled in order to provide a family or community member with a proper burial.
The funeral procession was always characterized by the family of the deceased who were the "first line" of family members, pallbearers, and mourners, followed by the jazz band, and then the "Second Line" -- who were non-family members who would come to pay their respect and help celebrate the life of the deceased.
Traditionally, Jazz Funeral mourners were characterized by their accessories -- fans, handkerchiefs, and umbrellas. All of these items were necessary for the long procession during the hot, southern sun.
On the way to the gravesite, mourners would quietly slow-step to somber songs or hymns played by the band. But once the deceased had been buried, a trumpet's call would signal the crowd to celebrate the life of the deceased and help release his or her soul. It is during this jubilant celebration that the fans, handkerchiefs, and umbrellas became "props" used by the celebrants and "Second Liners" as they high-stepped and danced to the celebratory music.
Over the course of time, the Second Line Umbrella has emerged as a dominant symbol of celebration in New Orleans. Today, the Second Line Umbrella is used to celebrate just about anything -- Mardi Gras, weddings, showers, graduations, milestone birthdays, anniversaries, retirements, sporting events, etc.
What was once just a regular necessity against the sun, has become a highly decorated work of art. Second Line Umbrellas now reflect attitude and personal style as they twirl and spin as if to say "laissez les bons temps rouler!"
Eureka Springs was introduced to the Second Line dance and decorated umbrellas with the introduction of Eureka Gras in 2006. Each year, more and more citizens and tourists have learned to step out and twirl their umbrellas.
Dan Ellis' s Jazz Funeral on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, will have a grand display of "Mourners" dressed in black carrying their decorated Second Line umbrellas while stepping out to tunes from the Original Eureka Springs Jazz Band.
Ladies interested in joining in one of the two Professional Mourners groups can contact Mary Popovac at MaryPop2009@yahoo.com , or Cne' Breaux at email@example.com. Or anyone can perform on their own. For updates, contact www.JazzFuneral.DanEllis.Net or call 479-981-9551.