I had a love affair with New Orleans the moment I stepped onto her old crooked cobblestone roads, saw the gaslights dance on a moody, starless night, got pulled into an old blues bar by the crying of a trombone.
I’ve gone back there time and time again, performing on her stages, even carrying out a massive kidnapping for Burke on our anniversary there one year.
This week kicks off the Mardi Gras Celebration in that old city. If you dig in a little, you will discover there is a lot more to Mardi Gras than plastic beads, beer cans, and people flashing each other. Mardi Gras it has deep roots in blues, jazz, voodoo culture and costuming.
There are secrets behind the beaded curtains of fortune tellers there, there are voodoo queens, real ones. There are mysteries hidden behind bricks in the streets, symbols traced in chalk on doors with hushed meanings.
Did you know:
♥ A young Louis Armstrong got into the red light district known as “Storyville” by selling red brick dust to patrons. It is known in voodoo that red brick dust can break curses. Stepping over a cup of this dust sprinkled across your doorway can break any curses acquired from carousing the streets. Kids weren’t allowed in Storyville, unless they were working. Louis would rub brick together filling a pale with dust. Selling that dust for 5 cents a cup would get him near the Houses of Ill Repute to hear the musicians play. They were playing Jazz, before Jazz had a name. That’s how he learned!
♥ The term “red light district” supposedly came from New Orleans (there are many other explanations but this is one). Storyville was a legal area of prostitution. It was a hub of gambling drinking, and ‘uncivilized’ music. It was also the end of the line for the railroad. The railroad men would carry their red signal lanterns with them, but for fear of fire, had to leave their lanterns outside the establishments they were in. Since Storyville was at the end of the railroad line, many of the workers would be hanging out in the jazz and prostitution houses there, leaving the streets lined with red lanterns.
Jelly Roll Morton was poor with no prospects. His mother had died and he was thrown out of his house as a teenager. Jelly longed to play music, and had only one person who could help this dream… his godmother, Voodoo Queen Eulalie Hécaud. He gave up one of his souls to the old Voodoo Queen (every one has two souls, the grande soul and the petite soul). Suddenly his luck changed. Guided by his godmother, he got his first job as a musician, playing in Storyville. Then following her directions again, he chanced across a man with a scientific marvel–a recording device. He became one of the first Jazz musicians to ever be recorded! As Jazz swept the world, he was hailed as its inventor.
There is a catch to giving up your soul. If the person possessing your soul passes away, you pass too. In 1941, Eulalie Hécaud died. Jelly Roll was wealthy and well, living in Los Angeles at the time. When Jelly Roll learned of her death he sent for practitioners to break the curse, but they didn’t reach him in time. Jelly Roll died unexpectedly at the young age of 46 years old.
After his death, When a new jazz craze hit they took the name of a popular jazz style at the time, “Rock” and added Jelly’s last name, “Roll”.
…The phrase sold my soul to Rock and Roll, isn’t a far fetched as it may seem.
♥ Marie LaVeau, the most famous of all Voodoo Queens, lived in New Orleans. She saved hundreds of people’s lives during a plague, where the best doctors of the region were unable to help. She was celebrated as a hero, and was feared and respected by everyone, even the city’s most powerful and wealthy residents.
I made a mix for you of some of my favorite New Orleans born and inspired songs. It’s 1 part burlesque sexy, 1 part voodoo and 1 part sha-sha-shake-it! Enjoy!
Love and Voodoo,