New Orleans jazz fest turns 40

Only about 350 people attended the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970, and that number included gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and the other 100 or so local musicians who performed.

NEW ORLEANS — Only about 350 people attended the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970, and that number included gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and the other 100 or so local musicians who performed.

Four decades later, Jazz Fest draws hundreds of thousands of fans from around the world to hear bands perform jazz, blues, country, Cajun, rap and rock.

The festival’s 40th anniversary kicks off today with a tribute to Jackson by Grammy-winning soul singer Irma Thomas and a performance by New Orleans native trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. This year’s headliners include Bon Jovi, Sugarland, Kings of Leon and The O’Jays.

“Oh, it’s a lot different now,” said Lionel Ferbos, a 97-year-old jazz trumpeter who has performed at the festival every year. In 1970, he played with the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra.

“It’s a lot bigger,” he added, recalling with a chuckle how that first year “nobody showed up.”

Although more nationally known acts have joined the lineup, the festival’s core remains local. Its producer said more than 80 per cent of the acts are from Louisiana.

“It’s still about New Orleans,” said Fountain, 78, who performs Saturday. “That’s why people like it so much. They like the city, and they like this city’s music. That’s why they come.”

Highlighting the city’s music was what motivated festival founder George Wein to venture south from New England. Launching Jazz Fest in New Orleans took years, Wein said, in large part because of segregation during the early 1960s.

When the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, the first festival was announced but later cancelled because violence and discrimination around the South continued against blacks who were trying to integrate, he said. But by 1970, things had settled.

The first Jazz Fest was held at Louis Armstrong Memorial Park and the park’s Congo Square, where in the 1800s slaves and free blacks would gather on Sundays to play music, dance, socialize and market goods. At the first festival, musicians shared four stages over two days.

Every performer that first year was from Louisiana, except for pianist and composer Duke Ellington, who was invited by Wein to attend and perform an original song to mark the occasion.

Ellington performed The New Orleans Suite, which earned him a Grammy in 1971 for best jazz performance by a big band.

Just Posted

Alberta hiring more paramedics and buying new ambulances, none for Red Deer

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer is not concerned the provincial government didn’t… Continue reading

‘My nightmare began again’: Close call as bus carrying Humboldt crash survivor rear-ended

CALGARY — A terrifying ordeal for Humboldt Broncos survivor Ryan Straschnitzki this… Continue reading

Halifax airport operations normalize after Boeing 747 runway overshoot

HALIFAX — The Halifax Stanfield International Airport has resumed normal operations a… Continue reading

Bentley family left without a home grateful for community support

Central Albertans are coming together to support a Bentley family left homeless… Continue reading

Red Deer RCMP ready for new mandatory alcohol screening law

Red Deer RCMP are ready to enforce a new law intended to… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer and District Kennel Club Dog Show at Westerner Park

The Red Deer and District Kennel Club is holding a dog show… Continue reading

Pence aide out of running to be Trump’s next chief of staff

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s top pick to replace chief of staff… Continue reading

Swath of South faces wintry mess: Snow, sleet, freezing rain

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A massive storm brought snow, sleet, and freezing rain… Continue reading

‘I killed my best friend’: Opioids’ fatal grip on mayor, pal

MOUNT CARBON, Pa. — Janel Firestone found her son — the 24-year-old,… Continue reading

Brothers, 20, face second-degree murder charge in death of teen: police

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Police west of Toronto say two brothers have been… Continue reading

A young mayor, his friend, and a fatal attraction to opioids

MOUNT CARBON, Pa. — Janel Firestone found her son — the 24-year-old,… Continue reading

GM fights to retain key tax credit amid plant closing plans

WASHINGTON — General Motors is fighting to retain a valuable tax credit… Continue reading

TTC union asks provincial government to step in on transition to Presto

TORONTO — The union representing transit workers in Canada’s most populous city… Continue reading

Small pot growers find roadblocks on path to microcultivation licences

Yan Boissonneault’s daughter was turning blue. Without warning, his baby had stopped… Continue reading

Most Read