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‘Sunday Kind of Love’ – The season of club parades begins

29th August 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
The Louisiana Weekly

Like all of those who regularly participate in this city’s Sunday afternoon social aid and pleasure club parades, Walter Ramsey, the leader and tuba player with the Stooges Brass Band, enthusiastically anticipates their resumption following the annual summertime break.

“The season is back,” Ramsey says of the cultural tradition that kicked off again with last Sunday’s the Valley of the Silent Men’s 26th anniversary parade. “It’s like going back to football – like going back to school. We get prepared to have fun with the crowd and the other bands that we play against. It’s like putting the strategy hat on to keep the number one band spot.”

Ramsey has participated in the social aid and pleasure club parades throughout his life as a follower, a member of the Scene Boosters of which his father was the president and blowing with the band. He estimates that during the 2011-2012 season, the Stooges will play all but seven of the proposed 37 parades.

It’s all in the family with the Ramseys. His brother, Thaddeus Ramsey plays bass drum with the Stooges and his grandfather, the omnipresent folk artist Ashton Ramsey has been a second line supporter for over 50 years.

“It’s the excitement that you do not see in the months when you’re not parading,” the senior Ramsey says of the season’s first second lines. “It’s the people. You know people for years and years and you get to meet new people. When the parade season comes you get to see them, associate with them, have a drink with them and all that. Everybody is having a good time.”

Ashton Ramsey is most recognized for commemorating events — the passing of a musician or someone from the street culture, dates of political importance and the like — with his decorated suits, hats and collage sign boards decorated with photographs and newspaper clippings.

“I didn’t want to dress up as no nurse – no woman; I didn’t want the expense of being a (Mardi Gras) Indian,” explains Ramsey of his unique costuming. “I just wanted to be different so that’s why I came up with my own outfit.”

Usually at Ashton’s side is his 10-year-old grandson Jawzansey Ram­sey who also plays trombone with the Young New Orleans Traditional Jazz Band. He’ll be in that number blowing at the much-anticipated Black Men of Labor Parade on Sunday, September 4, 2011.

“He’s excited by going,” says Ashton of Jawzansey’s participation in the second lines as a musician and follower. “He loves to dance – he’s a dancer now.”

Another veteran of the parade traditions, Clara “C.J.” Johnson doesn’t let a second line go by without her if she can help it. “I have to be somewhere else to miss them,” says C.J. who started out as a member of the Golden Trumpets Social Aid & Pleasure Club in 1982 and formed the popular Second Line Jammers in 1984. “If a parade started at 1 o’clock, I’d be out there for 11 a.m. partying,” she says of her earlier times. These days she and the Jammers ride the “trolley” at processions presented by the Valley of the Silent Men and the Undefeated Divas. At other parades, C.J. will catch the start of the event when the club members “come out” of their respective headquarters and then usually drive to several “stops” to catch the second line again.

“It means partying in the sun,” exclaims C.J. “Yes indeed, partying in the heat. It’s the music, the bands — the ReBirth, the Hot 8, the Stooges, the Pin Stripe – the costumes, the second lines. When the drum says boom they get jigging. Ta ta ta ta – that means let’s roll.”

High temperatures are definite factors during the parades that take place during August, September and even October. As Walter Ramsey says, “You can’t beat the heat – the heat is there.” Yet hardcore parade participants, whether they’re club members, second liners or musicians, don’t let it bother them. “Heat is no excuse; rain is no excuse,” says Ashton Ramsey of even considering not parading because of the weather.

“When you’re doing something you love, you don’t feel it,” echos Sylvester Francis, the founder of the Backstreet Cultural Museum, which specializes in second lines, jazz funerals and Mardi Gras Indians. Francis, who began following the social aid and pleasure club parades as a youth and who has been documenting them since 1979, concedes that he doesn’t remember when it was this hot.

“I’m glad when it starts; I’m glad when the end comes,” Francis says with his typical cynical humor of the secondline season. “You get to see old friends who you don’t get to see when they’re (the parades) laid off. You get to go to neighborhood bars that you only go to at second lines and then look for them the next time.”

Undoubtedly there are those who might consider people buckjumping in the steamy streets for four hours during the early months of the season just crazy. Social aid and pleasure club regulars see it another way.

“Crazy? I don’t even know what that means,” Francis responds. “They’re crazy to think something like that.”

Meanwhile, Walter Ramsey welcomes the naysayers saying: “Come join the party. A lot of New Orleanians run from the opportunity to come out there and see what it really, really is. They can really find themselves enjoying the culture of New Orleans if they’d give it a try.”

On the other hand, C.J. just tells them: “You stay home and cool yourself and I’ll be heatin’ myself in the sun.”

“Crazy? I am that,” Ashton Ramsey responds with a laugh. “This is my life. This is how I live.”

This article originally published in the August 29, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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