This week’s show is about how one musician and his funeral managed to reinvigorate brass band music in New Orleans, encouraging musicians to both challenge and preserve the tradition.
Danny Barker was a little young when the first generation of New Orleans jazz musicians started performing. Born in 1909 to a family of musicians, he grew up listening to Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and the other greats.
And like they did, he moved away from New Orleans to seek his fame and fortune as a musician. Playing primarily guitar and banjo but also other instruments, Barker went to New York and then later California playing with a wide range of musicians, including Cab Calloway, Dexter Gordon, and Charlie Parker.
He partnered with his wife Blue Lu Barker and penned songs like “Don’t You Feel My Leg” and they toured and traveled the world. But when it was time to slow down, they moved back to New Orleans where he took a post as a museum curator, He also continued to perform, often at the Palm Court Cafe immortalized by his classic “Palm Court Strut.”
But it was in fulfilling a request by his pastor and later his very own funeral that would contribute to the city’s ability to keep the jazz tradition alive.
I’ve already written about his role in reinvigorating the New Orleans brass band scene and you will hear a little bit about that and the related music in today’s show. But if you keep listening to the show, you will also hear how Danny Barker’s funeral helped set in motion an organization that takes great pride in the New Orleans community’s African and jazz heritage.
Today’s show includes excerpts of an interview with Fred Johnson, co-founder of the Black Men of Labor telling the story about how Danny Barker’s disdain for how jazz funerals were being conducted cause him and musician Gregg Stafford to organize a proper jazz funeral for their hero. And then how that experience then led them to create the social aid and pleasure club Black Men of Labor.
I hope you enjoy the show.