Jazz Funerals in a Pandemic : A Celebratory-Mortuary Ritual Of New Orleans
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The insurmountable loss and death caused by the pandemic and experienced by the Black communities of New Orleans created unique obstacles on how to properly funeralize a loved one. The people of New Orleans were able to rebuild their communities and sustain their cultural and historical traditions of funeralization after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. This shows their resiliency, their ability to innovate, be creative, and adaptable, all tools needed to overcome the challenges of the pandemic and properly memorialize and bury members of their community. The use of face masks became a normalized practice and safety measure against Covid-19, being adapted and introduced to traditional funeral rituals, allowing for some in-person gatherings. People were agentive in making matching face masks that created new communal identities, offered support and solidarity, as well as expressed collective grieving. Adaptations to traditional jazz funeral songs in the form of live-tapings or video tributes ensured that music would still have a place in people’s funerals as a way to properly send off their loved ones. Pop-up altars and memorials became placeholders for some rituals or simply another way to express grief. Jazz funerals themselves are a journey. They are highly procedural and organized, moving from one ritual setting to the next with music marking these transitions, helping and showing people how to feel through sound. The mix of solemnity and celebration, reverence and irreverence, are hallmarks of the jazz funeral tradition. Grief, joy, resilience, and healing are the fundamental elements of the jazz funeral rituals and despite the barriers to practicing their traditions, people found ways to preserve these emotions, feelings, and elements. In the final moments of Death is Our Business, the voiceover states, “I don’t believe here in New Orleans, we’ll ever get to a type of funeral that is not a celebration. Even if it’s not a band, if some is traveling with a boombox, then they’ve got some second line music. Here people will find a way to celebrate.”Celebration and healing through music are foundational and imperative to any jazz funeral or New Orleans style burial. Jazz music is so deeply intertwined with the history and people of New Orleans, it will remain a constant as a cultural practice. Adaptations in material culture and technology broadened and created new spaces within the traditional and established framework of jazz funerals. The Black communities of New Orleans will continue to heal and process their grief through collective gathering and music, no matter the means or barriers that life presents them.