Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at New Orleans jazz funerals and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Swiss funeral traditions and Nepalese funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
History Behind New Orleans Jazz Funerals
The New Orleans Jazz Funeral is a tradition from African and European cultures. It used to be known as “funeral with music” before jazz became popular. For a jazz funeral, there is a procession with a brass band and dancing called the second line. It’s inspired by the West African circle dances where children danced in a second circle around the main circle of adults.
Funeral Procession to Cemetery
The procession to the cemetery has a sad tone and begins with the deceased’s family and friends marching with the band from the funeral home, home, or church to the cemetery. The band plays somber hymns, such as Nearer My God to Thee and Just a Closer Walk With Thee.
Funeral Procession from Cemetery
The procession from the cemetery has a more upbeat tone for celebrating the deceased’s life. There are bright colors, costumes, and beads similar to a Mardi Gras parade but not quite as celebratory. Some funerals with more modern brass bands may play funk and hip-hop music, as well.
Mourners may join the procession if they see it going by. The first line is for the deceased’s immediate family and the band, while the second line is for other mourners. Those who join may twirl a parasol or handkerchief. When the Saints Go Marching In and Didn’t He Ramble are two examples of more upbeat songs the band plays.