64 Parishes

NOLA 300 Music

Listening to 300 Years of New Orleans Music

Editor's letter and table of contents

Published: August 29, 2018
Last Updated: March 22, 2023

Listening to 300 Years of New Orleans Music

Eric Waters

Irma Thomas at the Louisiana Humanities Center, 2018

The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities rang in the tricentennial year by publishing the anthology New Orleans & the World. The essays in it that were dedicated to music looked, as the title implied, at sounds crafted in the city that reverberated outward, traveling and influencing around the globe, and at the myths and legends surrounding the dawn and dissemination of jazz, the birth of rock and roll at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Recording Studio, the millennial hip-hop primacy of Lil Wayne, the evolution of Jazz Fest, and more.

To close out 2018, this issue’s special music section turns its ears inward. The essays collected here explore how New Orleans and New Orleanians have been listening over the past three hundred years—how songs shape us and tell our stories, how they pass through generations and across borders to make a history. You’ll read about pop tunes that reached turn-of-the-twentieth-century sophisticates from the stage of the storied French Opera House, the California soul band that became a Crescent City icon, the local kids who found their own sound when Trent Reznor came to stay, and the surprising origins of a hymn that became a second-line staple. Two musicologists follow the path of a horn riff as mobile as the parades it propels, a historian considers what Alan Lomax and Jelly Roll Morton didn’t talk about during their landmark 1938 Library of Congress recordings, and a journalist finds a story under the story of a 1956 film where Louis Armstrong stole the show.

Our contributors are music critics, fiction writers, reporters, DJs, musicians, curators, historians—and often, more than one of the above. (Two of them are even Grammy winners.) What they all share is that they’re expert listeners in a city that never stops making music. Tune in.

Quick links to the full music section below:

Maurice Carlos Ruffin on New Orleans expats Louis Armstrong and Lil Wayne

Jennifer Odell on the everlasting “I’ll Fly Away”

Matt Sakakeeny and Oliver Wang on the well-traveled Tuba Fats riff

Jack Belsom on popular song at the French Opera House

Rob Walker on the Morning 40 Federation’s collab with Galactic, “Liquor Pang”

Iris Martin Cohen on the cathartic power of parading and noise

Tom Piazza on being tuned to WWOZ 90.7 FM

Elijah Wald on one of Jelly Roll’s most intriguing cuts

Holly Hobbs speaks to Mia X about the songs that shaped her sound

Ben Sandmel looks back on the power of radio 

John Swenson delves into Louis Armstrong’s High Society and the myth of the jazz festival

David Kunian refutes barriers in the world of New Orleans jazz

Melissa Weber, a.k.a DJ Soul Sister, speaks to veteran DJ Captain Charles – and also writes fondly of the most New Orleans band that’s not from New Orleans, Frankie Beverly and Maze

Alex Rawls probes the scar Trent Reznor’s time in New Orleans left on local EDM artists

Ladee Hubbard examines Juvenile’s smash “Ha”

Gwen Thompkins digs up fond childhood musical memories

Ned Sublette looks at the cultural, historical and musical line in the sand that is Canal Street

Michael Tisserand sings a love song to Louis Prima’s “Buona Sera”


Thoughts, comments and song picks from New Orleans’ finest musicians, authors, filmmakers and fans. 


Tulane class of 2018 grad Justin Gitelman speaks to the young musicians forging the city’s sonic future, including Stoop Kids, the Grid and Khris Royal, with original audio.


A Spotify playlist featuring songs that inspired this issue.