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New Orleans rescinds a long-ignored rule prohibiting jazz and dancing in schools


A 100-year-old ban on jazz music and dancing in New Orleans public schools has finally been lifted, though it was never actually enforced. WWNO's Aubri Juhasz explains how the ban came into being.

AUBRI JUHASZ, BYLINE: At a school board meeting on March 24, 1922, seemingly out of nowhere, a board member called Mrs. Adolph Baumgartner proposed a ban on jazz music and dancing. Jazz music and jazz dancing in schools should be stopped at once, she said, adding that she'd seen, quote, "a lot of rough dancing in school auditoriums lately." The board agreed, and the ban was passed. But the district's unofficial historian, Ken Ducote, says it never really went into effect.

KEN DUCOTE: To not want kids exposed to jazz is as though in Colorado, if you had passed a regulation that kids could not look at the Rocky Mountains.

JUHASZ: Ducote says the ban was clearly racially motivated since many white New Orleanians in the 1920s considered jazz Black music and low class. But despite Baumgartner's intent, Ducote says the genre flourished inside New Orleans public schools, since many aspiring musicians made their living teaching jazz to students. The 100-year-old ban that almost everyone had forgotten about was finally lifted Thursday night.


JUHASZ: Friday morning, the jazz band at Sci High held its first legal practice.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All right. You ready?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: One, two. One, two, three, four.


JUHASZ: Saxophonist Donald Dumas says jazz is everywhere in New Orleans, from professional bands to buskers on street corners and friends on front porches. And regardless of who's playing, you can't help but want to dance along to it.

DONALD DUMAS: When people come down here and they hear that, like, they automatically going start dancing just from, like, the unique style of the music.

JUHASZ: That's because while jazz takes skill and discipline, it's also free-flowing and adventurous.

DUMAS: Like, the rhythm, the beat, the feel of it, you know, that's what makes it, like, really good.

JUHASZ: Drummer Amaree Bester says he likes jazz because it allows him to play with other musicians and still stand out.

AMAREE BESTER: Sometimes I follow what they say and do what they ask. Sometimes I just want to try my own thing, and it ends up turning fun for me and good sounding to them. So it's just a lot of fun doing that.

JUHASZ: The band is new this year, and Dumas and Bester say they're proud to be carrying on the legacy of jazz.



JUHASZ: For NPR News, I'm Aubri Juhasz in New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aubri Juhasz
Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.

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