Works in Progress - Summer 2013

Small Slice of the Big Easy

By Chloe Taft | June 10, 2013


A housing project, a shuttered nightclub, a public park, and a rundown record store—they are vital sites for creating a musical map of New Orleans, says Amber Wiley, a professor of architecture at Tulane University.

This fall Wiley, the National Park Service, and Tulane City Center will host and record a public event called Sites and Sounds at the 1838 Old U.S. Mint Building on the edge of the French Quarter. Musical performances and lectures will focus on four sites within a small section of the city’s Uptown neighborhood:

  • A. L. Davis Park is a celebration site for Mardi Gras Indian tribes and brass band parades.
  • The Dew Drop Inn was an early performance site for both African-American musicians and cross-dressers from the 1940s to 1970s.
  • Brown Sugar Records reflects a time when music was locally promoted and distributed.
  • The Magnolia Projects public housing, built in 1941 and expanded in 1955, spawned several hip-hop stars and is featured in countless bounce songs. (Wiley is an expert in bounce music, a New Orleans genre that became popular in the 1990s and draws on a variety of local traditions.)

“These places have been overlooked because the tourism industry in New Orleans has been geared strictly toward jazz,” she says. The collection of sites, incorporating other, overlapping musical traditions, “is not on the tourist map of New Orleans, but it’s important in terms of an alternative history.” The notoriously violent Magnolia Projects, for example—razed in 2008, rebuilt, and renamed Harmony Oaks—represent an “intentionally erased history” whose positive cultural contributions should be remembered, Wiley believes. She hopes that highlighting the other locales will lead to their rehabilitation at a time when post-Katrina city planning threatens to destroy parts of the city’s past.

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