A 100-year-old ‘absurd’ policy banning the teaching of jazz music in the New Orleans public school system will finally be lifted

New Orleans has long been known as the birthplace of jazz music, but for exactly a century the genre has been technically banned throughout the public school system.

The rule was formally added on March 24, 1922, at the regular fortnightly school board meeting, noted in one line at the very end of the Orleans Parish Council agenda during a discussion of finances “On the proposal of Mrs. Baumgartner, it was decided that jazz music and jazz dance would be abolished in public schools.

According to a 1922 newspaper article, when asked what dance was allowed, Mrs Baumgartner called jazz dancing “rough” and said “they can dance the one step, the two step and the waltz”. The motion was put to the vote and carried with one abstention. A century later, the rule is still in the books.

The current Orleans Parish School Board discovered the original policy with the help of the local Special Collections Librarian and it was raised as an action point at Tuesday’s school board committee meeting. Dr. Ken Ducote, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools, called the policy “absurd” and noted the “enormous role New Orleans schools have played in the development of jazz in this community”.

Ahead of the committee meeting vote, Orleans Parish School Board Chairman Olin Parker said, “I want to acknowledge that this was rooted in racism” and praised the contributions of diverse students and directors of the school band. The rule has been largely ignored over the years, but the school board has recognized the importance of officially removing it from its system.

The formal vote to overturn the policy is scheduled for later tonight, exactly 100 years after the date of its original adoption.


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Henry R. Wright