New Orleans law bans jazz music and dance in schools



The school board in the town where jazz took root is preparing to overturn a little-known 1922 rule that bans jazz music and dancing in public schools.

Officials tell The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate that the policy has racist origins, as its creators at the time sought to alienate New Orleans schoolchildren from the African Americans who created the genre. The rule was ignored for decades. Jazz is taught in some schools, and marching bands accompanied by dance teams are an integral part of parades during carnival season.

“In this case and in this case only, we are happy that the policy has been ignored by our students, by our schools,” said board member Katherine Baudouin. “Our schools have played a major role in the development of jazz.”

The board discussed the policy at a committee meeting on Tuesday and planned to vote on Thursday to rescind it.

The policy came to the board’s attention after Ken Ducote, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools, read a book, “Chord Changes on the Chalkboard: How Public School Teachers Shaped Jazz and the Music of New Orleans,” by Al Kennedy. Kennedy had discovered politics while doing research.

“It’s as if Colorado had passed a rule prohibiting students from looking at the Rocky Mountains,” Ducote said.

Reports from 1922 cite a school board member at the time identified as Mrs. Adolph Baumgartner as an early opponent of the genre.

“Jazz music and jazz dancing in schools should be stopped immediately,” Baumgartner said at a meeting in March 1922. “I have seen a lot of brutal dancing in school auditoriums lately.”

Kennedy said the ban was likely the school board “reacting to fears of the day.”

“Think of it as an early version of the book ban,” he said. “It seems they were more afraid it was a bad influence than anything else.”

Current board member Carlos Zervigon introduced the motion to overturn the ban at Tuesday’s meeting.

School board chairman Olin Parker said the policy was “rooted in racism” and noted that the ban did not prevent “the tremendous contributions of our students and especially our group directors whose legacy continues from 1922 until the carnival season”.

Ducote said current school board practices require significant public input before new policies are adopted. This prevents board members from adopting new policies on a whim, as was done in 1922.

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Henry R. Wright