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Art in Motion: New Orleans’ Second Line Parades Play On

Art in Motion: New Orleans’ Second Line Parades Play On


Second Line parades make weddings and funerals in the Big Easy something to see

There are few cities in the United States—and perhaps the world—where the connection between art and spirituality is taken as seriously as it is in New Orleans. Among all the beautiful displays of art in motion on NOLA’s streets, the most fascinating may be New Orleans’ second line parades.

While second line parades are familiar to the residents of the Big Easy, others may find funeral and wedding processions with bands and dancing a bit strange.

It becomes clear when we take a deeper dive into the history behind New Orleans’ second line parades.

The origin of the second line parades

Second line parades stem from New Orleans’ iconic jazz funerals.

Originally, second lines began as neighborhood celebrations by the black community in New Orleans. The original second lines raised awareness, helping freed slaves receive help, advertising services, and mourning the losses of notable community members.

But where most citizens would protest or mourn, the residents of the Big Easy celebrated.

No invitation needed

There are few rules when it comes to these parading band demonstrations. Everyone is welcome.

Hence, it’s called a second line. Onlookers form a second line behind the mourning family or the couple that’s getting married, waving handkerchiefs and swaying to the brass band’s tunes. Some bring an instrument, and most all come ready to dance.

Today, New Orleans’ second-line parades are common, especially if you find yourself traversing the streets of the French Quarter.

These concerts-in-motion are staples of festivals such as French Quarter Fest, Satchmo Summerfest and Mardi Gras. Similarly, they are common for weddings and funerals.

Celebrating a new couple

Couples who want to pay homage to one of New Orleans’ oldest traditions hire a brass band to parade with them down the street. What better way to celebrate a wedding?

The newlyweds typically carry parasols that distinguish them from their first and second line. Then, they extend an inviting hand to any onlookers who want to join the joyous celebration. The result is a big, moving dance party.

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The brass bands typically play The Street Sounds of the Big Easy, plus other popular cover songs, to keep the party hopping.

Celebrating a life well lived

Though funerals aren’t as joyous as weddings, they remain a beautiful celebration of a life lived on the streets of New Orleans.

Second line funeral processions typically follow the main line from the funeral home to the burial site.

While often organized for distinguished community members, anyone can have a second line procession for a loved one’s funeral.

In fact, you can hire a New Orleans band to accompany your wedding or funeral procession quite easily. Doing so brings a bit of the Big Easy magic to you during your time of need. Or simply heightening the joy of being with the love of your life.

So find the right band for your celebration—or keep an eye out for a second line parade you can join—and let the good times roll!

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